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Preview: Denver Nuggets look to right ship against Portland Trail Blazers

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NBA: Denver Nuggets at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets (16-14) are preparing for a matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers (18-12) in a battle of two teams that are heading in much different directions currently. The Blazers are 8-2 in their last 10 games, and they’ve been without C.J. McCollum for that entire stretch. Meanwhile, the Nuggets, who have injury issues of their own, are 4-6 in their last 10 with some ugly losses, and two of those four wins have come against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have lost 13 of their last 14 games.

The Nuggets can’t wait for February to be over at the rate they’re going. After staving off some early struggles, they’ve stumbled flat on their face this month due to injuries and ineptitude, and all of that work they did to undo the early mistakes is gone. They currently sit seventh in the conference 8.0 games back from the Utah Jazz, and they’re 1.5 games back from the sixth place San Antonio Spurs. They can’t afford to give up any more games.

Despite a number of injuries of their own, the Trail Blazers are rolling right now. Damian Lillard is playing like a guy that wants to be in the MVP conversation. He’s averaging 30.0 PPG with the second-best marks of his career from the field and 3-point range. This Blazers’ team can knock off the Nuggets here and send them further spiraling while keeping pace with the top four teams in the Western Conference.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (16-14, 8-6 home) vs Portland Trail Blazers (18-12, 10-6 away)

When: 8:00 p.m. MST

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up on Zoom. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Blazers Edge

Expected Starting Lineups:

POR: PG Damian Lillard, SG Gary Trent Jr., SF Derrick Jones Jr., PF Robert Covington, C Enes Kanter

DEN: PG Monte Morris, PG Jamal Murray, SF Michael Porter Jr., PF Zeke Nnaji, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: P.J. Dozier, Gary Harris, Greg Whittington, JaMychal Green, Paul Millsap, Zach Collins, Harry Giles, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkić

Three Things to Watch

Defending Lillard

Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks just got done putting up 35 points on 10-of-19 shooting against the Nuggets on Sunday. Unless something dramatically changes, do we really think Lillard couldn’t go for 50? Murray and the rest of the guard rotation, especially with Gary Harris and P.J. Dozier on the shelf, just don’t have the defensive chops to stick in front of a scorer like Lillard.

Jokic needs help fast

While the rest of the Nuggets’ rotation has seemingly lived on the injury report for the last month, Jokic has maintained a largely clean bill of health, and he has yet to miss a game this season. However, on Sunday against the Hawks, it became clear that he needs help before a wall of exhaustion takes him down. Whether it’s Murray or someone else, someone needs to alleviate the pressure he’s carrying on his shoulders.

Can Denver keep pace?

Over the last couple of years, there has been one consistent trend for beating the Nuggets, and it’s especially noticeable with the lengthy injury list they have. Teams that can play with pace while spacing the floor, which the Blazers are definitely the latter with nearly 50 percent of their field-goal attempts coming from 3-point range. Portland is 16th in pace this year while Denver is 28th. If they can hit some shots and get out on a run, this game could be over in a hurry.