What is it about playing in Portland that Marcus Camby does not like? Portland was fortunate enough to have the "unreleased" Jelani McCoy start at center in the Nuggets previous visit to the Rose Garden and tonight it looks like Steven Hunter will get his second start of the season. Camby is listed as questionable as he waits for his left knee contusion to heal. Eddie Najera is also listed as questionable with his bruised ribs.
It is a bad time for Marcus to be on the shelf as the Nuggets play in Portland tonight and face the Jazz on Wednesday back in Denver. However, Steven Hunter played well against Charlotte and their big front line. I expect him to do the same tonight. As long as he fights for every rebound and runs the floor he should be fine.
Denver is 1-2 against Portland this season and they will need a win tonight to split the season series with the Blazers. As tight as the playoff race is in the west, the Nuggets cannot afford to lose the primary tiebreaker to Portland.
The Nuggets won the first meeting between the teams as they played well on defense, jumped on Portland early and did not let the back in the game. However, that was back during the Nuggets six game winning streak early in the season and before Portland had their act together.
The second game saw Portland not only shoot lights out from the field (55%) led by Channing Frye splashing jumper after jumper to go 10-13 in place of LeMarcus Aldridge, but they also grabbed 18 offensive rebounds on only 40 missed shots. Whenever you allow a team to gather up almost half of their missed shots, you are going to lose.
The third meeting was the aforementioned game where McCoy started in place of Camby and Kenyon was out as well. Carmelo and AI had great games scoring 68 points together, but they did not get enough help from the other Nuggets who only tallied 28. The key play of the game was when Brandon Roy, hardly an explosive leaper, blocked a turnaround jumper, a shot that by nature is difficult to block, attempted by Melo late in the game. Melo clearly ran out of gas down the stretch due to his hard work on the glass and the Nuggets dropped one of the few games all season where they played very hard from start to finish.
As far as matchups go the Nuggets have done well against Brandon Roy this season and I am not really sure why. They have held him to 33% shooting and an average of 18 points on 18 shots. Roy has done well passing the ball as he had 11 assists in the game two of the series. Anthony Carter should be able to handle Steve Blake relatively well. Kenyon needs to be very wary of Aldridge’s ability to hit the 18-20 foot jumper and make sure he plays the good perimeter defense he is capable of. Also, Sergio Rodriguez seems to play well against the Nuggets which is something to look out for.
When the Nuggets have the ball Portland does not have anyone who matches up well with Melo, but Travis Outlaw is athletic enough to be a major pest. Obviously, AI can get wherever he wants on the floor eventually to the detriment of both the opposing team and the Nuggets offensive flow. Klieza has been great the past month and they will need him to once again provide energy and rebounding.
Portland is not playing their best ball right now having lost six of their previous 11 and they have only won two of four on their current home stand. Their last three games have been decided by one point, one point and six points in overtime.
The Nuggets are playing very well at home, but if they want to move their way up the standings they must start playing better on the road. Portland is a very tough place to win, but the Nuggets have the talent to pull it off even with Camby out as long as they play hard.
Dave over at Blazer's Edge has the scoop on anything and everything you want to know about Portland.
Update: I was surprised to see that Portland plays at the second slowest pace in the league at 90.5 possessions per game (Detroit is the slowest paced team at 90.0 possessions per game). Of course Denver plays at the fastest pace at 102 possessions per game. Thank you for the stats Professor Hollinger (must be an ESPN Insider to view stats). The pace of the game would seem to be a key to the outcome. The previous game in Portland was definitely played at Portland's pace, but the Blazers also showed that they could win a faster paced game with their prior win in Denver.