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Trail Blazers at Nuggets: Crashing into the second half (7pm MST)

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Tonight the Denver Nuggets are back in action for the first time since the All-Star break. What a game to kick things off ... a division rival and an old friend, Raymond Felton, makes his first trip to the Pepsi Center since being traded over the summer for Andre Miller and Jordan Hamilton. Feels good to have basketball back, but everyone (players, coaches, and Stiffs alike) needed a break ... been a hell of a season.

Game: 36

Records:
Denver:
18-17 (9-8 at home)
Streak: Lost 2
Portland: 18-16 (5-11 on the road)
Streak: Won 1

Injuries:
Denver
: Danilo Gallinari (left ankle sprain) is out. Nene (left calf strain) is questionable. Rudy Fernandez (lower back strain) is a game time decision. Ty Lawson (left ankle sprain) is probable tonight.
Portland: Greg Oden is out.

Television: Altitude

Season Series: 2-0, Portland.

Opposition's Take: Blazers Edge

Chazz Reinhold: What is she doing back there? I never know what she's doing.

While the "she" is actually a "he" in this scenario, head athletic trainer Jim Gillen has really been tested this season. Tonight George Karl expects to have Ty Lawson and Rudy Fernandez back in the lineup. (UPDATE: Rudy is out according to Ben Hochman.)

Fernandez hasn't played since Feb. 17th in Memphis (missed last four games) and Lawson has missed the last two games. Jordan Hamilton and Julyan Stone have filled in well for the two key rotation guys, but it sure would be nice to get the whole roster back.

Danilo Gallinari should return sometime in early-mid March and Nene could be back even sooner than that. Boy oh boy will it be great to see this team whole again.

John Beckwith: Ok, meet me at the back of the room. I'll be the guy waiting to say I told you so.

The Nuggets trade with the Blazers over the summer looked like a win-win for both teams. The Nuggets got a veteran point guard in Andre Milller who could hold down the backup duties for the Nuggets and even carry the second unit (and allow Karl to keep two play-makers on the court at the same time) at times. Denver even added a young prospect in Hamilton as the three-team trade with Dallas was completed. And Portland finally got the quick point guard they needed who could score, pass, and defend and who was entering the prime of his career at 27 years old.

Well, when the season began, Miller voiced his opinion that he might look for a starting gig after the season and Felton has been benched in Portland in favor of Jamal Crawford and he's been speaking out on his displeasure as well.

Felton's number are atrocious this season as he's shooting 37.6% from the field and 24.8% from three-point land - both are career lows. He's also averaging just 10.2 points per game for a team that needs scorers (another career low) and his assist numbers (6.2 apg) are down as well. Looks like the Nuggets may have sold on Felton at just the right time.

John Beckwith: What are you doing? It's a game of touch football, every time I look over you're on your ass again.

The Blazers are not the most physical team out there, but Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum are both physical defenders (and rebounder for Wallace) and the Nuggets can't afford to let them control what the Nuggets are trying to do on offense. Marcus Camby, our old friend, will be patrolling the paint and LaMarcus Aldridge will be trying to do damage down low in the post.

In the two previous game this season, the Nuggets got the old screw-job from the schedule makers (who may one day try to take over the Earth). Both games in Portland saw a tired Denver team at the Rose Garden. The first game was the second of a back-to-back for the Nuggets and the third game in four nights. The second contest was the third of a back-to-back-to-back for the Nuggets and their fourth game in five nights. It'll be good for the folks at the Pepsi Center to see two well rested teams play this evening. Everyone should get their money's worth.

The Nuggets need to play physical defense, make sure to guard the perimeter with Crawford and Wesley Matthews (who now comes off the bench) out there, and get to the rim on offense. Camby can block shots, but he doesn't have the strength to keep guys off the rim if they are going for dunks.

Best Man: After my ninth stint in rehab, Craig - ah Craig, Craig was the only one who still believed in me. Been sober now for eight months.

Interesting season. Denver starts 14-5 and finishes 4-12 in the first half. Well, the good news is that they hit the restart button and have just about made it through this Leap Year in February. The schedule loosens up in March, a bit, but this is a very important game. The Nuggets are down 0-2 to Portland on the season and this is the only time the Blazers come to Denver (the last game against them this year!). While the Nuggets cannot gain the head-to-head advantage over Portland, they do need to start racking up on division wins (only two so far vs. Utah and Minnesota).

The playoff race is going to be a close one and the Blazers and Nuggets will both be trying to move up in the standings and we should see these teams finish with close records at the end of the season. Can't afford to lose all three games to the Blazers, not only for playoff seeding, but because the Nuggets need to re-gain some confidence against this team from Rip City.

John Beckwith: I've changed. I've realized something. I crashed a funeral today. Jeremy Grey: [mutters] Oh Jesus. John Beckwith: It wasn't my idea, I was basically dragged to it. [to Jeremy] John Beckwith: I went with Chazz who you forgot to tell me is totally insane. He also might be a genius because it actually does work, he's cleaning up. Claire Cleary: John! John Beckwith: I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

The Nuggets can change too ... let's get this second half of the season started off right!

Nate_Timmons on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/Nate_Timmons
ntimmons73@yahoo.com