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Preview: The Nuggets tango with shorthanded Blazers as they seek 5th straight win

Middling Blazers visit the Nuggets without star Damian Lillard in the first match between the two rivals this season

Atlanta Hawks v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets are currently riding high on a four game winning streak; including a win without Nikola Jokic over the Indiana Pacers. Now they seek their fifth straight against their rivals, the Portland Trailblazers. They have been middling so far this season under new head coach Chauncey Billups. They’re currently 6-7, despite Damian Lillard playing some of the worst basketball of his career. He’s averaging a (for him) modest 20 points per game on an abysmal 38% from the field, and 26.8% from beyond the arc.

The Blazers, however, will be without their star player in this game. He’s going to be out with lower abdominal tendinopathy; leaving the Blazers with CJ McCollum and Norman Powell as their next best players. The Nuggets aren’t without injuries either — both Michael Porter Jr. and Vlatko Čančar are still out with their respective injuries, and obviously Jamal Murray is still going to be on the injury report.

The Blazers still have a good offense with a 109.2 offensive rating; good for 8th in the league. Their defense isn’t great seeing as their only 16th in defensive rating. These two put them at 12th in net rating. The Nuggets on the other hand have the 23rd offensive rating — which is awful compared to what Nuggets fans are used to, and just the league overall. However, their defense has remained excellent. It’s good for 2nd in the league. With these two factors, the Nuggets have the 8th best defensive rating. It used to always be a hard game against the Trail Blazers, but the Nuggets are 5-2 against the Trail Blazers since they lost to them in the 2018-19 playoffs. They also beat them last season in the playoffs. The Nuggets have dominated since the playoff loss. This game should hopefully follow suit against a shorthanded Blazers team.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (8-4) vs Trailblazers (6-7)

When: 6:00 PM MST

Where: Ball Arena, Denver, CO

Rival Blog: Blazers Edge

Expected Starters:

DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Jeff Green, C Nikola Jokic

POR: PG Anfernee Simons, SG CJ McCollum, SF Norman Powell, PF Robert Covington, C Jusuf Nurkic

Injuries: Vlatko Čančar (out), Michael Porter Jr. (out), Damian Lillard (out)

Three Things to Watch

The Three Point Shooting

The Nuggets shooting just hasn’t come around this season. They are currently shooting 29.8% from 3, and that’s only above the Detroit Pistons by one tenth of a percent. For reference, the Pistons are the worst 3 point shooting team since the 1960s. Not exactly great company to have to put it mildly.

They just need to be better — simple as that. The Nuggets’ best shooters have been Will Barton, Nikola Jokic, and Aaron Gordon. Gordon is shooting below league average by a percent at 33%, and he’s their third best shooter. It just isn’t good enough, and they need to put the ball in the hoop. There’s no need for in-depth analysis — it’s just bad and needs to be better.

Who Steps Up in Damian Lillard’s Absence?

The Nuggets always play good against adversary, and suck against bad teams more than they should. The question here is anyone going to shred the Nuggets up in place of Damian Lillard? CJ McCollum and Norman Powell have both had good games against the Nuggets in the past, but they’ve also had bad games too. Is Anfernee Simons randomly going to have a career night against the Nuggets? Who knows, I sure don’t.

The Nuggets will have to remain focused for this game, and not get ahead of themselves. They just can’t let themselves overlook this team, but knowing them they very well might. I sure hope they stay engaged and blow the socks off of the Blazers, but we’ll see.

Can Aaron Gordon keep up his good play?

Aaron Gordon has been fantastic over the entire season, but especially the past 6 games in particular. His defense has been All-NBA defensive team caliber; putting all-stars in jail night in and night out. He’s only averaging 12.3 points per game with 5.7 rebounds per game and 2.2 assists per game. One big thing is that he’s been a 40% 3 point shooter in that stretch — shooting 40.9% on 3.7 attempts per game. If he can keep that kind of play up, then I’ll be one happy camper.