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Small ball begins... (Blazers vs. Nuggets preseason preview)

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Whether Carmelo Anthony stays in Denver or not, it appears as though the Nuggets will be playing a lot of "small ball" throughout the 2010-11 season. We'll get our first look at these undersized Nuggets on Friday night.

Maybe I've been listening to my Uncle Marty - aka the Nuggets Curmudgeon - too much this offseason as he's already predicting that the 2010-11 Denver Nuggets will dominate..."the midget basketball league." Sans pseudo bigs Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen to begin with, there's no mistaking it: these Nuggets are undersized. Make that grossly undersized.

It's likely that the 6'9" Nene will continue to do yeoman work at center, even though he was built to play power forward. And where the rebounds come from beyond that are beyond my forecasting ability. We're already being sold on the renaissance of Shelden Williams' career taking place in Denver and I hope, hope, hope this comes to fruition. But having seen Williams play during his short stints in Atlanta, Sacramento and Boston I know I can't count on Williams yet. If ever.

If the Nuggets are short on size and, presumably, rebounding, they'll have to find other ways to win games. And Nate and I - and we hope a number of our fellow Stiffs - will get the chance to see how the Nuggets intend on doing that when the Portland Trail Blazers visit Pepsi Center on Friday night. If Tuesday's Preseason Jam was any indication of what to expect, scoring will be aplenty while defense will be sub-standard. But one can't really predict the style of Nuggets basketball entering the 2010-11 campaign based on one inter-team scrimmage.

I do know this, however: the Western Conference's elite teams are loaded with big, tall dudes. The Lakers,Mavericks, Spurs, Jazz, Blazers and Rockets all "out-size" the Nuggets substantially. The Blazers in particular are missing two of their centers due to injury and they're still bigger than the Nuggets. And thus, Nuggets fans should get ready for some offense-driven "small ball."

To be clear, small ball isn't necessarily a bad thing. Just don't expect the Nuggets to win games 90-85 but rather 115-110. Simply put, I don't foresee the Nuggets stopping anybody other than the Rochester Big & Tall menswear delivery truck from making drop-offs in the Nuggets locker room.

But where the Nuggets lack in size they make up for it with talent and offensive firepower. Carmelo Anthony is a top-two small forward in the conference, Chauncey Billups a top-five point guard, Nene a top-ten big man (in spite of that whole size thing), J.R. Smith a top-three sixth man, Al Harrington may also be a top-three sixth man if he doesn't start and Rocky is the conference's best mascot hands down. See? All is not lost in Nuggets Nation these days (as long as Melo is here, of course). And I didn't yet mention that Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson are capable of being game-changing type players with their overall effort on both ends of the floor.

When the game tips off at 7pm MST on Friday night it will be interesting to see how the Nuggets play-call against Portland. Do they start Harrington at power forward and go guns blazing at the Blazers? Or will Williams get some starting minutes at power forward in an attempt to establish a defensive scheme early?

Whether you like Williams or not, you have to admit that a Harrington/J.R. New Jersey turnpike one-two punch off the Nuggets bench - plus injecting Lawson - is a fascinating proposition. How many NBA teams can throw two 20-point scorers at you off the bench plus a speedy, pesky point guard also capable of scoring? Not many, if any. That lineup scenario would put a lot of offensive pressure on Anthony, Billups and Nene, but with the bench scoring sure to come from J.R., Harrington and Lawson, opposing teams will be gasping for air during Nuggets home games.

And therefore, I predict that the Nuggets will start Melo at small forward, Williams at power forward, Nene at center, Billups at point guard and Afflalo at shooting guard with Harrington, Smith, Lawson, Renaldo Balkman and exciting newcomer Gary Forbes coming in off the bench.

It's a "small ball" squad to be sure, but one that's capable of winning games while being fun to watch.

Go Nuggets!


On a side note, Nate and I will be meeting at the Blue Sky bar inside Pepsi Center around 6:30 for a pre-game beer if anyone would like to join us. And no, Altitude TV will NOT be televising the game, which is completely inexcusable and a giant f--- you to Nuggets fans. You can, however, listen to the game on 950AM radio.