While most Coloradoans will be stuck at silly Oscar parties placing $2 bets on who will win Best Supporting Actress, I'll be at Pepsi Center watching the current Nuggets take on three notable former Nuggets who now play for the rival Trail Blazers.
I was admittedly drinking the Trail Blazers Kool-Aid before the season began. I figured a team that could field two starting fives and had one of the NBA's few "alpha dogs" in Brandon Roy leading the way was due to make another leap from their Nuggets-tying 54 wins of a season ago. Looking at the Blazers preseason roster, they could play big ball, small ball, slow ball or fast ball and do so with youthful energy combined with experience.
At that time, a lot of readers of this site disagreed, suggesting that the Blazers offseason acquisition of former Nugget point guard Andre Miller would prove to be a mistake and disrupt the Blazers young, hungry dynamic. This was true for the first month of the season when Miller showed up at training camp out of shape, the ball was taken out of Roy's hands too often and the Blazers got off to a rough start. But when Blazer centers Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla went down with nasty knee injuries in December, it would be Miller's acquisition that enabled the Blazers to acquire another former Nugget, this time center Marcus Camby. Had the Blazers not brought Miller to the Pacific Northwest, point guard Steve Blake (another former Nugget) wouldn't have been expendable in a deal to bring in a big man.
Regardless of the Miller situation, the Blazers - sitting in the Western Conference's eighth playoff seed, on pace for 47 wins and fielding a roster with three former Nuggets, the youngest of whom (Miller) is 33 years old - certainly aren't having the season anyone expected. When two-fifths of your starting five are comprised of aging former Nuggets who, while in Denver, never came to close to winning a playoff series, things aren't going to plan. That said, the Blazers have been playing well of late, winning five of their last six games (five of which were on the road) in commanding fashion and haven't played since Wednesday.
The Blazers will be rested and ready to take on the Nuggets who, conversely, will be playing their seventh game in 11 days and are suddenly more banged up than usual. Nuggets fans everywhere woke up Saturday morning to the frightening news that Kenyon Martin might need surgery on his left knee which, if this comes to fruition, will end K-Mart's thus far exceptional 2009-10 season and kill the Nuggets chances for an NBA championship. In addition to K-Mart's absence, rookie sensation Ty Lawson could likely miss tonight's game with a bad shoulder, Chris Andersen is playing through pain and Carmelo Anthony needed an IV after Friday's game.
The Nuggets certainly won't get any sympathy from Portland, though, a team that has sustained a number of injuries all season long and yet could still finish as high as fifth overall in the Western Conference playoff seeding. And that's part of why tonight's game is going to be so intriguing to watch play out. Portland knows Denver is banged up and they want to continue their march to that fifth seed. Meanwhile, Denver wants to keep pace with Dallas and keep their pesky division rival in Portland at bay. Throw in three former Nuggets - Miller, Camby and Juwan Howard - sure to play big minutes tonight, and we have the makings for an exciting national TV game.
I'll guess I'll have to get my Oscar results via my phone.
SCOUTING THE BLAZERS (OSCAR STYLE)...
Actor in a Leading Role - Brandon Roy: Despite missing 15 games due to injury, Roy's numbers remain on par with last season's and he's been playing great recently. As noted above, Roy is one of the few players in the NBA who can carry a team to the promised land through a combination of great leadership, excellent skill and clutch performance.
Actor in a Supporting Role - LaMarcus Aldridge: While the big men around him have crumbled, Aldridge has been a rock, missing just three games all season while delivering 17.5 ppg on 50% shooting and 8.1 rpg.
Directing - Nate McMillan: Give McMillan - a former George Karl disciple - credit. When Miller showed up out of shape at training camp, McMillan immediately demoted him to the second unit. And McMillan has done a fine job weathering an assortment of injuries (including his own Achilles tendon rupture) to keep Portland in the playoff hunt. Of course, it helps when you have two starting fives on your roster.
Photo courtesy of AP: Jim Prisching