The Denver Nuggets and Portland Trailblazers have never been considered rivals. Until the 2004-05 realignment they were in separate divisions. They have only played in the NBA playoffs on two occasions, after the 1985-86 season (Denver won the first round matchup 3-1) and after the 1976-77 season (Portland won in the semifinals 4-2 on their way to their only NBA title).
Last season this matchup took a step towards becoming a rivalry. They played a very intense overtime game last season on February 4th which was won by the Nuggets 105-103 on a last second shot by Allen Iverson. Had Portland won they would have won the season series 3-1 and at the time with both teams fighting for a playoff spot the tiebreaker seemed significant.
Fast forward to today and Portland and Denver are tied atop the Northwest Division and. Both teams appear to be in position to be contenders for the Northwest Division championship for the next few seasons. You can expect a hotly contested game.
Portland is a very good offensive team. They are second in the league in offensive efficiency at 114.0 and they play at the slowest pace in the entire league. What is strange about the Trail Balzers is most teams that play at a slow pace are defensive oriented teams. Portland is a poor defensive team and the slow pace with which they play makes it more difficult to capitalize on the offensive advantage they have over almost every team in the league.
Portland’s offensive dominance is especially impressive considering that they are a jump shooting team. Even their power forwards, LaMarcus Aldridge and Channing Frye, are long range marksmen. Their only interior big men Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden, are not scorers. Portland has a similar situation to the Nuggets in their starting lineup. They start rookie Nicolas Batum for defensive purposes as the Nuggets start Dahntay Jones. Both are at their best when they run the floor, but Batum is a better shooter. Portland has another European rookie, Rudy Fernandez, who plays the J.R. Smith role of instant offense. He is very similar to J.R. in that he has deep range, a love of taking shots with a high degree of difficulty, he is athletic, can penetrate almost at will and is also an exceptional passer.
However, as talented as the Blazers are they have one player who is head and shoulders above the rest and that is Brandon Roy. Roy is a dominant offensive player. He is a great shooter, is a very adept passer and just knows how to play basketball. He is an instinctive player who makes brilliant plays appear natural. In the fourth quarter he runs the show. Every time down the floor he has the ball in his hands and makes sure Portland gets whatever shot he wants them to. He loves to drive from the top of the circle and once he gets his defender on his hip he will stop, draw some contact and drain a little ten or 12 foot jumper. If the Blazers need a three, well, he will get it and usually make it. If he happens to miss he has a knack for ending up with the rebound. It is uncanny.
Defensively the Trail Blazers have good athletes, but give up too much penetration. They scramble well, but tend to be a step slow with their recovery.
Denver is going to have to find a way to get back to the way they were playing before this three game losing skid. They cannot hope that a red hot J.R. Smith will keep them in the game as he did in the second quarter in Phoenix. Carmleo is going to miss at least the next three games thanks to his sore elbow (and some input from his agent Bill Duffy) and it will be interesting to see if Denver will play with better flow without him. Chauncey is going to have to get back to directing the offense and demanding movement that will open up the floor.
Defensively, the Nuggets are going to have to play with a great deal of intensity and focus. They must rotate well in order to close out on Portland’s shooters. I think Dahntay Jones has a chance of frustrating Roy a little and it will be interesting to see if he can at least slow him down. If we see Anthony Carter on Roy Denver will be in big trouble. I suspect you will see more switching on the perimeter so as to ensure that no shooter is left open, but that will only create more issues as we have seen over the previous few games.
With Denver playing at home I think you will see a more spirited effort and hopefully a more intelligent floor game. If not, Denver will be in second place in the division come tomorrow morning.
Last Season’s OT Game: DEN 105 POR 103