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Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Preview

The Blazers are after three-in-a-row but it won’t be easy.

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Denver Nuggets v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images

Don’t look now but the Portland Trail Blazers have won two in a row! After trouncing the injured Philadelphia 76ers 130-104 on Monday, the Blazers rode the energy of Damian Lillard’s return to nip the Bucks 119-116 on Wednesday. Now the always difficult trip to Denver for not one but two games this weekend.

The Denver Nuggets aren’t exactly laying waste to the NBA, but they have the air of a team that is content to coast into the playoffs fearing no one. On Wednesday they lost away to the Oklahoma City Thunder 105-100, but Nikola Jokic sat out due to a back issue. Time will tell if Jokic is able to suit up against Portland.

Portland Trail Blazers (15-33) at Denver Nuggets (33-16) - Friday, Feb. 2 - 6:00 p.m. Pacific

How to watch on TV: Root Sports, NBA League Pass

Trail Blazers injuries: Robert Williams III (out), Moses Brown (out), Shaedon Sharpe (out)

Nuggets injuries: Vlatko Cancar (out), Nikola Jokic (questionable), Julian Strawther (questionable), Jamal Murray (probable), Peyton Watson (probable)

Blazer’s Edge Reader Questions

From SweetFA:

That 0/0 on the ticker for this article just made me feel bad.

So I’m posting out of guilt and pity.

We aren’t proud. Sometimes things get buried, other times people aren’t feeling it. We’ll happily take what we get.

My question is:

How many wins per season do you think can be attributed to teams frequently having late arrival b2bs, or ending long road trips in Denver due to scheduling around travel issues?

It’s an interesting question. First, I took a sample of a bunch of NBA teams and it does seem that a higher-than-expected number of road trips end in Denver. Beyond that there are so many variables it’s impossible to control for them all. There have been studies that look at things like schedule congestion and back-to-backs, and the data is very clear that these matter, and not just a little bit. But scheduling is not just a factor playing in Denver, it has an impact across the NBA. Is it especially hard to play Denver at the end of a road trip or on the second night of a back-to-back? Well, it’s hard to play in Denver when the schedule is more accommodating - elevation alone is a big factor. It’s certainly believable that it’s even harder to play in Denver when coupled with travel and/or schedule difficulties. At the end of the day though we know the Nuggets are really, really talented. They are going to win a bunch of games even if we could control other factors. On balance I’d say that the Nuggets do get an advantage from travel/schedule issues, but maybe not as many games as you might think. I’ll go with three games a season.

What To Watch For

  • Keep an eye on the injury news on Friday. Jokic didn’t play on Wednesday in the Nuggets’ loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jamal Murray did play, but he is also listed on the injury report with a knee contusion. It’s expected Murray will play, but knee injuries, even a bruise, have a way of being unpredictable. Perhaps the assumed weakness of the Blazers will motivate Denver’s staff to take extra time with their injuries. The odds for a Blazers’ win would change pretty dramatically depending on whether Jokic and Murray suit up.
  • Free-throw advantage. The Nuggets don’t take a lot of free-throws and they don’t make a lot of free-throws. They are 29th in made free throws, 27th in free-throw attempts and 28th in free-throw percentage. The Blazers are 19th, 21st and 9th in those categories. If the Blazers can keep it close perhaps they can snatch a victory from the charity stripe.

What Others Are Saying

Matt Brooks of writes that the Nuggets’ success is all down to the draft.

The Nuggets have become the gold standard for why the draft matters, especially for teams like Denver that operate in a smaller market. Free agency has largely been done away with; the last major superstar free agent signing was, what, in 2019? When Kawhi Leonard became an LA Clipper? Or when Kevin Durant inked a contract with the Brooklyn Nets? Top-10 players just don’t become free agents these days. The best way to come across a player of that stature is to, well, draft them. The Nuggets are the shining example of that with Jokić, who casually posts triple-doubles like they’re Instagram Stories.

Clutch defense is a reason for optimism according to Nick Kosmider of the Athletic. (subscription required)

But one of the most encouraging aspects of the team’s repeat quest is its growth on defense at closing time. The Nuggets entered the week with the NBA’s No. 1 defense in clutch time, defined as the final five minutes of regulation or overtime when the score is within five points. The 96.5 rating the Nuggets posted in that category is the best since they led the league with a 95 rating during the 2018-19 season. It’s considerably better than the 99.3 mark they posted during last season’s championship run.

The Nuggets have jokes.