Blazers vs. Nuggets preview: Can George Karl's team put it together for four quarters?

Damian Lillard gets another crack at the Nuggets. - USA TODAY Sports

We've seen some thrilling comebacks by the Nuggets recently. Denver hasn't had to comeback in games because of poor play, but if they can focus their efforts for all four quarters - we might see how scary-good this team can be.

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2012/2013 NBA Regular Season: Game 40
Portland Trail Blazers (1971 - 1990)

vs
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20-17 (7-12 on the road)

Series 1-0

Portland

23-16 (14-2 at home)
January 13, 2013 - 7:00 PM (MT)
Pepsi Center - Denver, Colorado
TV Altitude & NBA TV / 950 AM / 104.3 FM The Fan
Probable Starters
Damian Lillard PG Ty Lawson
Wes Matthews SG Andre Iguodala
Nicholas Batum SF Danilo Gallinari
LaMarcus Aldridge PF Kenneth Faried
JJ Hickson C Kosta Koufos
Notes
Blazers Edge - preview is up! Blogs Denver Stiffs
Meyers Leonard & Elliot Williams are out Injuries None
Despite a winning record, the Blazers give up more points than they score on the season Stat The Nuggets have won 5 straight

Need any help remembering what happened in Portland on Dec. 20th?

Does getting out-scored 42-0 from three-point land ring any bells? Well, it should. The Nuggets entered the wrong side of the record books by going 0-22 from deep at the Rose Garden. Some have suggested that the Nuggets cut back on taking threes, but that would likely mean taking more jump shots.

"The fourth shot is the two; what we call the tough two," said George Karl to Comcast SportsNet Northwest reporter Chris Haynes (during Karl's shoot-around interview with the media). "We like layups, we like the three-ball, and we like the free throw. The shot you're talking about is the fourth shot and since we probably don't emphasis it, we probably don't work on it as much, and we probably aren't very good at it. And we not very good at shooting threes either."

The Blazers used a 14-36 (38.9%) effort from downtown to defeat the Nuggets 101-93 in the first meeting between these two teams. Since defeating the Nuggets, Portland has gone 8-5, but they've dropped their last two games (at Golden State and at home against the Thunder). This is a young team, but one with plenty of upside.

"I see a good basketball team. A team that is growing and getting more confident," said Karl. "Playing a rookie point guard there's some growing pains that comes with that, but he's [Lillard] a special talent. Batum and Matthews are great wings and can give you a lot of problems in different ways. And they got Aldridge who you can throw the ball to 20-30 times a game and come out with a win, too."

The one issue with the Blazers is that they don't have a lot of fire-power on the bench. Lots of nights the starters have to be relied upon as the cavalry isn't going to come.

"Another team's personality is something we know about," said Karl. "But I think it's just how aggressive we can play, how fast we can play, and hopefully we'll bring some wear-and-tear to their guys that they play 40 minutes a game."

In Portland's most recent loss to the Thunder, the Blazer bench only provided six combined points and four of their five starters played 38 minutes or more. Karl sees this Portland team in a similar mold to the Golden State Warriors.

"It's a similar game-plan to Golden State," Karl said. "Golden State shoots it really well, so does Portland. They rely a great deal on the three ball; we've got to be very aware of [that]."

One player to keep on eye on is Wes Matthews. Dealing with a leg injury in the first meeting, it was Matthews who provided the fire-power from downtown as he nailed four three-pointers against the Nuggets - as did Luke Babbit off the bench and Batum added five bombs of his own.

Denver is halfway home on their 12 home games in January. They have won 5 of 6 on the home-stand with some tough games still to come.

"The thing about playing at home is confidence. Getting that extra feel that you can win any game at any time and knowing what to do - whatever the game calls for you to do - shoot it, defend it, run it, play different combinations with confidence," said Karl. "The fourth quarters have been that way, but I can't deny that I'm not very happy with the way we've started games. Our focus, it seems like we are piecing the game plan together as the game goes on; rather than going out and jumping into the game with the right focus."

"We've started out the good way," said Karl. "We have to get 10 wins in this month and right now we are on schedule to get that done."

Getting a sixth home win on this home-stand would bring the Nuggets that much closer to their January goal.

Views you can use:

-Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was an assistant coach under Karl in both Seattle and Milwaukee. Asked if Stotts has taken a lot of Karl's teachings, the Nuggets coach responded:

"I think philosophically we are similar," said Karl. "Their offense has more [Rick] Carlisle to it than what we do now. He's very good with execution, he's very good with spacing, and he's very good with giving confidence to the players. I think he allows them to take shots that other coaches might say they don't want in their offense."

Stotts was an assistant under Carlisle from 2008-2012 before taking over in Portland.

-Rookie of the Year candidate Damian Lilliard is looking forward to his match-up this evening with two very different point guards. He told me the following on Denver's back-court duo:

"I am going to play the same way I always play," said Lillard. "I think the challenge will be having to guard them and how different they are. Ty Lawson being the speedy, strong, scoring guard and Andre Miller being able to pass the ball so well, playing at his own pace, post-up, and making plays for everybody else. It'll be tough to guard both of them with how different they are."

Lillard is also humble guy who steered my Rookie of the Year talk back to his team:

"I'm happy that our team is in a position to win more games," said Lillard. "We are winning a lot more games than people expected, so the most exciting thing is that we are winning games right now and I'm able to help the team do that."

-The Blazers have a new big man coach this season. Former Nuggets player and assistant coach Kim Hughes works with the Portland big guys. He was instructing JJ Hickson and Meyers Leonard at the shoot-around today and it's nice to see Hughes back on an NBA floor. He was very instrumental for his work with the Clippers big man Chris Kaman and many others. He was even doing off-season work with big men, before his Blazers gig.

Nate_Timmons on Twitter
ntimmons73@yahoo.com

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