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Game 82 preview: Nuggets @ Blazers

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Happy Seeding Day!

Game 80: April 10th, 2004.

That is the game that I saw Carmelo Anthony become a difference maker. It sounds pretty funny because Melo was having a fantastic rookie season and was involved in the Rookie of the Year conversation with LeBron James, but I wanted to see something more.

The Nuggets were clawing and scratching to get into the playoffs and the Blazers came into town. A win and Denver was all but guaranteed their first playoff birth since the 1994-95 season. A loss and Denver was going to have to get some help.

My sister took me to the game as her work had purchased the upper box next to the DJ booth. As the game went on the excitement grew. Melo sent the game into overtime with some last second heroics and Denver went on to win 110-100. Strangers were hugging strangers by the end of the game and Nuggets fans again had a team and a star to root for.

Fast forward to this season and once again the Blazers are in the picture and in the way of the Denver Nuggets.

We'll find out if Denver must win this game in order to claim the 2nd Seed because the Rockets play in Dallas on ESPN with tipoff slated for 6 p.m. MDT. If the Rockets win the Nuggets must win to claim the 2nd Seed. A Rockets loss and the Nuggets can shut it down early at the Rose Garden.

The Rockets are 3-3 in their last 6 road games. Wins versus San Antonio, Golden State, and Sacramento. Three losses coming to Utah, Phoenix, and the Lakers. So, Dallas should have a good shot to win at home tonight.

Records:
Denver 54-27 (21-19 on the road)
Portland 53-28 (33-7 at home)

Season Series: Denver leads 2-1
Dec 22 in Denver: Nuggets win 97-89
Dec 23 in Portland: Blazers win 101-92
March 5 in Denver: Nuggets win 106-90

Opposition's Take: Blazer's Edge (preview already up ... excellent insight into everything Blazers as usual)

Carmelo has only played in one game against the Blazers this season. He scored 38 points on 16-26 shooting on March 5th in Denver's home blowout win over Portland.

The Nuggets are 1-1 against Portland without Melo and that is a pretty good sign. The Blazers are very good at home. With a win tonight they could finish with a better home record as the Nuggets (33-8).

When you discuss the Blazers the talk focuses on Brandon Roy (22.8 ppg) and LaMarcus Aldridge (18.3 ppg). Roy is quickly becoming known as the "closer" of the Blazers and he's a very talented all around guard.

If you have only seen the Blazers play against the Nuggets you might not get the sense that Roy is a leader and a dominant player. In his three games against the Nuggets Roy has averaged 16.3 points and 5 assists ... both lower than his season averages. In fact, Denver was able to hold Roy to just 8 points in their first meeting of the season. Roy has only failed to reach double-digits in points four times in 77 games this season. Make no mistake, this kid is a star in the making and key to how far Portland will go in the post season.

On the flip-side Aldridge has played well against Denver. He averages 20.3 points and 5.3 rebounds against Denver. Aldridge will be in the conversation going forward as one of the best power forwards in not only the Western Conference, but in the league. The Nuggets have to guard against his baseline jumpers and I like Kenyon to match up against him.

I've been arguing with my buddy Rich about Portland all season. He calls the Blazers the "most over hyped" and "overrated" team in the NBA. I tried to point out that Portland could very well finish with the exact record of the Nuggets, but to no avail.

Rich's comments come across to me as a guy who doesn't watch Portland games. This team is deep and they have size. They can score the ball in a variety of ways, but they don't tend to get out and run much. Portland prefers to play at a slower pace and they hate wasting possessions.

We'll find out tonight if the Nuggets need this game. I believe that will determine their effort, but Denver needs to come out and take this one. Once they find out Houston's fate I don't mind if they play Johan Petro, Jason Hart, and Co. Should be very interesting how things go.

Tonight is a great night for basketball. If Houston beats Dallas then it'll be an excellent night for basketball as both Denver and Portland will need this game.

Only two playoff seeds have been determined: 1.) Lakers vs. 8.) Utah Jazz ... the other six seeds will be decided tonight as all six teams face off against one another.

Rockets at Mavs, 6 p.m. tipoff on ESPN

Hornets at Spurs, 6 p.m. tipoff

Nuggets at Blazers 8:30 p.m. tipoff on ESPN
all tip times MDT

Pregame Notes:

  • Denver can surpass the 1987-88 win total of 54 games by winning game 55 tonight
  • Billups has averaged 15.3 points and 7.3 assists against the Blazers this season
  • Nene has averaged a double-double against the Blazers with 17.3 ppg and 10 rpg
  • Birdzilla has 10 blocks (6 and 4) in Denver's two wins over Portland
  • Chris Andersen recorded 0 blocks in Denver's road loss to Portland

ntimmons73@yahoo.com