Preview Portland Trail Blazers vs Denver Nuggets: Lillard, Lawson face off

Doug Pensinger

The Nuggets will be debuting more than a new, giant, shiny scoreboard on Friday night. They'll be presenting a totally new team to the Denver fans.

Loading Scores
Game 2: 2013-2014 NBA Season
@
0-1 (0-1 road)
Series 0-0
0-1 (0-0 home)
November 1st, 2013
Pepsi Center - Denver, CO
7:00 PM MT
Altitude TV / 950 AM
Starters
Damian Lillard PG Ty Lawson
Wesley Matthews SG Randy Foye
Nicolas Batum SF Anthony Randolph (?)
LaMarcus Aldridge PF J.J. Hickson
Robin Lopez C JaVale McGee
Notes
Blazer's Edge Blogs You're here!
Earl Watson (calf) is questionable, C.J. McCollum (foot) is out Injuries Wilson Chandler (hamstring) is questionable, Danilo Gallinari (knee) is out
The Blazers have lost 9 straight games at Pepsi Center Stat 7 of the Nuggets last 8 games against the Blazers has been determined by less than 10 points


Both the Denver Nuggets and their Northwest Division "rival" Portland Trail Blazers dropped their opening night games against (allegedly) inferior Western Conference opponents on the road. The Nuggets lost their season opener 90-88 in Sacramento while Portland got their butts kicked in Phoenix to a Suns team that's been predicted by most to be the worst in the conference.

Looking back at the Nuggets opening loss, you can take a glass is half full or half empty point of view on it. Taking the glass is half full approach, one could argue that despite missing Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, facing an energized Kings home crowd and playing out-of-sync for most of night, the Nuggets were still in position to win at game's end. The glass is half empty approach, however, would argue "why was this game even close in the first place?" as my colleague Colin Neilson essentially asked in his Thursday column.

Comically, watching this game I could have sworn George Karl was still commanding the Nuggets bench: only 10 minutes for JaVale McGee, no fourth quarter presence from Kenneth Faried, a two point guard lineup for long stretches of the game, deploying three guards frequently and overusing the aging Andre Miller (who, as he has done so many times before, almost pulled out the victory by himself). But alas, this is no longer Karl's team but rather the responsibility of newcomer Brian Shaw. We've only witnessed one regular season game under Shaw, and it's clear that Shaw will be moving away from Karl's "layups and three-pointers only" approach to an approach that includes more mid-range jumpers and post plays.

But will that approach work?

The Nuggets will have a good opponent to test their new system against on Friday night: the still rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers. Coming off two straight post-season absences, the Blazers laid an egg on opening night of the 2013-14 campaign by losing at Phoenix 104-91. Maybe the tanking Suns just got hot (shot 52% from the field and had four players put up 18 points or more), maybe the Blazers were just cold (41% shooting despite huge nights from Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge), or maybe the Blazers' defense is just garbage. Regardless, when Blazers fans penciled in likely wins for the 2013-14 their first matchup with the Suns was probably one of them.

So when the Nuggets and Blazers face off on Friday night, even though we're just two games into the new season, both teams will be looking to right their wrongs from opening night.

Three things to look for in this game ...

1) Lawson versus Lillard
I took some heat last season when I wrote midway through the 2012-13 season that I'd take the Blazers (then) rookie point guard Damian Lillard over the Nuggets' Ty Lawson. Sixth months and a Rookie of the Year trophy for Lillard later, I stand by that statement. But that doesn't mean Lawson's game is to be relegated to the dustbin of point guard history. I'm looking for Lawson to play with some pride as his sophomore rival tries to steal a victory on Lawson's home floor.

2) Let's get something - anything - out of JaVale McGee
Throughout the 2012-13 season we Nuggets fans (and this includes me, front and center) demanded that JaVale McGee get more playing time than (then) starting center Kosta Koufos, even if it meant sacrificing some regular season wins. Well, Nuggets fans, we got our wish and McGee rewarded it with 4 points, 1 rebound (1 rebound?!), 4 fouls and an ass-whooping at the hands of DeMarcus Cousins in 10 minutes against the Kings. Say it ain't so, JaVale. Friday's opposing center is Robin Lopez, so my gut feel is that McGee will grab more than 1 rebound and score more than 2 baskets.

3) Make Aldridge work
As was evident in Wednesday's game in Phoenix, much will be put on the shoulders of the Blazers All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge if Portland is to win an NBA game this season. And while Aldridge may rank among the NBA's best power forwards, he's the only power forward on his team of any substance. Conversely, the Nuggets have three talented - yet flawed - power forwards of their own in J.J. Hickson, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur. Here's hoping Shaw throws his power forward trio at Aldridge all night, forces Aldridge into those bad long range jump shots that he likes to settle for and wears out the Blazers big man before the fourth quarter even starts.

**AND ONE EXTRA: J.J. HICKSON VERSUS HIS OLD TEAMMATES**
For whatever reason, the Blazers left their starting center from 2012-13, J.J. Hickson, available for any and all takers during the 2013 off-season. Why? Some have surmised that the Blazers weren't happy with Hickson's lack of defense. Others have surmised that the young power forward is too shot-happy. I for one am glad the Nuggets picked up Hickson and hope he makes his former team pay for relinquishing him so easily.

Scouting the Trail Blazers ...

Blazers Non-Stiffs

-Damian Lillard: Lillard didn't dish out a lot of assists (2) on opening night but he did produce 32 points on 50% shooting from both the field and three-point territory. Despite being a second year pro, Lillard plays with the confidence of a veteran and will be a handful for Lawson and Nate Robinson all night Friday.

-LaMarcus Aldridge: The aforementioned Aldridge is one of the NBA's premier power forwards, but he's prone to settling for jump shots over playing inside. That said, he averaged a career high 9.1 rpg last season so he must be boxed out (that means you, JaVale).

-Mo Williams: Williams had an awful night in his Blazers debut (1-9 shooting, 3 turnovers vs. 3 assists), but I've always been a Williams fan. It will be fun watching him and Robinson duke it out as the primary backup point guards on their respective teams.

Blazers Stiffs

-Robin Lopez: Big, tall, white, Stiff and with a Sideshow Bob hairdo to boot. The always hustling Lopez would make Doug Moe proud.

-Thomas Robinson: The fifth overall pick in last year's draft is now playing for his third team in two seasons. Huh? Robinson may end up giving Chauncey Billups a run for his money in the "most teams played for out of the gate" category.

Parting Shot

If you had turned the volume off and could somehow remove the scoreline while watching the Nuggets play the Kings on Wednesday night, you'd assume the Kings were up by 10 points throughout. The new-look Nuggets just didn't look right and never seemed to be in control of their destiny in that game. But a two-man Blazers squad and an amp-ed up Pepsi Center crowd might be just what the Nuggets need to get their mojo on track this season.

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