A season of culture change, development and mixed results wraps up for the Denver Nuggets tonight as they are in Portland to face the Trail Blazers. Each team has different objectives with their final game of the season. Denver for all intents and purposes needs to lose this game which will ensure they can do no better than a tie with the Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks in the standings, thus giving them a better chance in the draft lottery as well as a better overall seed in the actual draft. Portland meanwhile can guarantee the fifth seed in the playoffs and a first round match up with the Los Angeles Clippers with a victory tonight.
The Nuggets are using the final weak of the season for experimentation. Kenneth Faried has agreed to give up his minutes so coach Michael Malone can get an extended look at the Nikola Jokic/Jusuf Nurkic pairing, aka the Balkan Towers. Meanwhile, several players like Jakarr Sampson, Axel Toupane and D.J. Augustin are playing for their next job (Toupane and Sampson will spend the next six months trying not to get cut while Augustin is trying to secure a nice new contract). The Blazers will be a tough final test for all the Nuggets. Damian Lillard is the de-facto alpha dog of the team and rightfully so. The point guard is an athletic and dynamic scorer who is a handful on defense and to make things more difficult, he's joined by C.J. McCollum in the back court who ran away with the most improved player of the year award this season and completes one of the best back courts in the Association.
Who: Denver Nuggets (33-48) at Portland Trail Blazers (43-38)
When: 8:30 PM MDT
Where: Moda Center, Portland OR
How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE AM 950
Rival blog: Blazer's Edge
|Portland Trail Blazers||Denver Nuggets
|PG||Damian Lillard||Emmanuel Mudiay||Blazers|
|SG||C. J. McCollum||Gary Harris||Blazers|
|SF||Maurice Harkless||Jakarr Sampson||Even|
|PF||Al-Farouq Aminu||Nikola Jokic||Nuggets|
|C||Mason Plumlee||Jusuf Nurkic||Nuggets|
Will Barton, D.J. Augustin, Axel Toupane, Darrell Arthur, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mike Miller,Jameer Nelson
Injured players: Gary Harris - questionable (groin), Darrell Arthur - doubtful (knee), Kenneth Faried - questionable (back), Danilo Gallinari - out (ankle), Wilson Chandler - out (hip), Chris Kaman - questionable (abdomen), Meyers Leonard - out (shoulder)
Key match up: Damian Lillard vs Emmanuel Mudiay
As I said, Lillard is the motor that makes the Blazers go. The perennial all star has the size and athleticism to be a handful for anyone. Mudiay certainly has the physical tools to go toe to toe with Lillard but not quite the skill level. In many ways Lillard is a good parallel for what Mudiay should hope to become, a dominant oversized scoring point guard who also has the ability to create for others. As the final game of the season, this match up also serves as an excellent measuring stick for how far the Nuggets young guard has come over the course of the season.
Key thing to watch for: Balkan domination
The Blazers don't exactly boast a plethora of athletic big men which should mean Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic can have some success against them. When faced against the slower pairing of Tim Duncan and David West they had their best game together on the floor but when faced with the spry youth of Rudy Gobert and Trey Lyles, Jokic and Nurkic struggled (Nurkic in particular). Its the last chance of the season for management to get a look at these two guys on the court together and whether or not it can work. If they can't put up a big game against the like of Mason Plumlee and Al-Farouq Aminu then they aren't likely to be able to put up big games against most anyone.
Opening thought: Play hard, play well...and lose
There's no reason to win this game tonight outside of pride and as they say, pride comes before the fall. "The Fall" in this case would be falling two spots in the lottery and draft order and weakening Denver's chances at either landing or trading for a top pick. I get the arguments against tanking, I get the idea that a player should always want to win but let's be real, losing this game has far more potential to benefit the organization than winning it can and while the organization can't come out right and say they want to lose this game, it absolutely should be part of their thought process.