If ever there was a time to get our Nuggets back to their winning ways it begins with Wednesday night's matchup against division rival Portland: an injury-riddled team playing the second of a tough back-to-back.
I've written extensively over the years about how much I hate back-to-backs in the NBA. For starters, the NBA doesn't ensure that each team plays the same number, making it unfair to those who have to play more than others. And secondly, it's the ticket-paying fans who ultimately get screwed as so many back-to-backs - especially when one team is at home and rested while the other is traveling in for the game - end in walkovers.
And there's no worse back-to-back in the entire NBA than coming from the Pacific Time Zone to the Mountain Time Zone to play at Denver or at Salt Lake City at an increased elevation. Even Mountain Time Zone to Mountain Time Zone did the Blazers in the last time they played at Denver, when they got creamed 95-77 at Denver on December 28th the night after winning at Utah 96-91. Like many blowout wins over a team playing the second of a back-to-back, the Blazers kept the Nuggets honest for the first half of that game and then were obliterated in the third quarter.
But considering how crappy the Nuggets have played recently and how desperately this team needs to rack up wins to a) hedge against a possible Carmelo Anthony departure and remain in postseason contention and b) should Melo stay beyond February 24th, somehow eek their way into home court advantage in the postseason, I hope the Nuggets take full advantage of the back-to-back playing Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.
The visit by Portland kicks off a six-game stretch of very winnable games. (Of course, we said the exact same thing before the Nuggets hit the road last week, only to watch them win four straight followed by two embarrassingly bad losses.) After hosting the injury depleted Blazers on Wednesday night, the Nuggets host the struggling Jazz on Friday, followed by a back-to-back date at the lowly Timberwolves on Saturday, followed by a visit from the struggling Rockets on Monday, a trip to Oakland to play the inconsistent Warriors on Wednesday and, finally, the Nuggets get the resurgent Mavericks (whom we beat in Dallas earlier in the season...during our "Stiffs Night Out" event, no less) next Thursday.
Despite Portland's menagerie of injuries - Brandon Roy is out indefinitely, Greg Oden is out indefinitely, Marcus Camby is out indefinitely, Nicolas Batum is banged up, etc - the Blazers recently won five-straight games and after two losses to the Spurs and Celtics, impressively beat the league leading Spurs on Tuesday night in Portland. Like the Nuggets in many ways, Portland isn't using injuries as an excuse not to play hard and not to play well. (For great insight into why the Blazers have been so jinxed injury-wise, I recommend reading The Oregonian's Jason Quick's article from January 1st titled: "How the Jail Blazers Became the Frail Blazers.") And under normal circumstances, the Blazers would be a very dangerous team.
But coming into a frigid cold Denver in the middle of the night, just hours after a tough fight against the Spurs, will render the Blazers a very non-dangerous team when they walk onto the Pepsi Center hardwood on Wednesday. The only question to ask then is: can the Nuggets shake off their poor playing ways and take advantage of the Blazers?
Scouting the Blazers...
-LaMarcus Aldridge: Averaging career highs in points (21.0 ppg), rebounds (9.0 rpg) and blocks (1.2 bpg), Aldridge is the reason the Blazers are clinging to the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff seed. In a normal NBA season, Aldridge would be an All-Star and he's getting much All-Star talk. But I still think you have to put Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Pau Gasol (or Dirk Nowitzki) over Aldridge this year.
-Wesley Matthews: Many scoffed when the Blazers overpaid for Matthews in the off-season, but with Roy out indefinitely the Blazers would be nowhere without Matthews' production from the two-guard spot.
-Andre Miller: He may be old and out of shape, but this former Nuggets point guard continues to produce and is averaging the most assists per game (7.1) than he has since the 2006-07 season.
-Marcus Camby: After playing admirably for the Blazers last season in a contract year, the re-signed Camby saw his scoring production and shooting percentage plummet this season before spraining his knee which might cost him the remainder of the season. Nuggets fans are shocked to read this.
-Greg Oden: Considering what a great kid he is, Oden's career is nothing short of a tragedy. Watching the incredible success of Kevin Durant only makes matters worse for Oden and his supporters. But simply put, anything short of a miraculous recovery and Oden may go down as the worst first overall pick in NBA history. Somewhere, Kwame Brown and Michael Olowokandi are smiling.
In many respects, it's hard to argue with the moves that the Blazers organization has made over the years to remove the stench of the Mark Warkentien/Bob Whitsitt-fueled "Jail Blazer" Era. But most unfortunately for those great Blazers fans (and they are great), the injury bug has descended upon Portland for several seasons now and refuses to leave, relegating the Blazers to an annual one series-and-done first round playoff victim. Portland's loss should be the Nuggets gain, however, as the Nuggets desperately need to get back on track.
Opposition's Take: Blazers Edge