The Denver Nuggets host the Portland Trail Blazers tonight in a game Portland could be without four of their best players. Damian Lillard will be out 6-8 weeks with an abdominal injury, CJ McCollum is awaiting the birth of his child, while Normal Powell and Anfernee Simons entered the league’s health and safety protocol. This sets up another matchup where Denver should win this game but of course, this is the NBA. Portland is fresh off two straight wins in which they beat the Nets and Kings fairly handily. As for the Nuggets, they try to follow their embarrassing second-half performance against the Clippers with a division win.
The Nuggets have already faced the Blazers twice this season in which they are 1-1. In their last matchup, they lost in a blowout but Jokic was out that game and CJ and Dame hit five threes apiece. On paper, this is a game the Nuggets should and must win but they will get Portland’s best effort tonight. In Portland’s last two games, they have eclipsed 39% from three while averaging 20 free throws. In Denver’s last two games, they have been held under 100 in each contest and against the Clippers, they shot 4-33 from beyond the arc. Now, they travel home and are gifted a game where Portland will be without four key pieces. Time to capitalize.
Who: Denver Nuggets (20-19, 9-7 home) vs Portland Trail Blazers (16-24, 2-13 away)
When: 8:00 PM MT
Where: Ball Arena
How to watch/listen: TNT, NBA League Pass, Altitude TV (If you’re lucky enough), or 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio
Rival Blog: Blazer’s Edge
Expected Starting Lineups:
POR: PG Dennis Smith Jr., SG Ben McLemore, SF Nassir Little, PF Robert Covington, C Jusuf Nurkic
DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Austin Rivers, SF Aaron Gordon, PF JaMychal Green, C Nikola Jokic
Injuries: Will Barton (out), Vlatko Cancar (out), Markus Howard (out), Rodney McGruder (day to day), Anfernee Simons (out) CJ McCollum (day to day), Damian Lillard (out), Norman Powell (out), Larry Nance Jr. (out)
Three Things to Watch
Do they play down to their opponent?
As we saw in their last two games, they have done just that. They blew double-digit leads in each of those contests and were fortunate to come out of that stretch 1-1. Portland is the worst road team in the league. They have won two road games all year, so it is vital for Denver to handle their business against a perceived inferior opponent. Although Will Barton is out because of health and safety protocols, we did see Aaron Gordon thrive with more touches. He ended the game as Denver’s highest scorer with 30 and was one of the only bright spots. Another player to look out for is Monte Morris. He knows this team very well and will look to attack Portland’s guards who are suddenly thrust into the starting lineup.
The Trail Blazers know they will be a significant underdog in this game, so it is expected they will bring the energy early and often. They don't have as much skill on the court right now, so they need to make up for it in other ways. That being said, it’s important for Denver to compete in that category which can manifest itself in many ways. Cuts to the basket, offensive rebounding, taking a charge, all could be essential to keep up with their energy. Timing is also important as well. Denver cannot afford to blow another second-half lead as it might destroy their confidence. Introduce good energy early but maintain it for 48 minutes.
Capitalize on their porous road defense
As I said before, they are a bad road team and one of the reasons for that is their defense. They allow their opponent to have the highest FG% in the league at 49.6% and the highest 3P% as well at 38.5%. They also give up about 116 points per game away from home, so this sets Denver up nicely to have a return to form type game. Portland also does not force a lot of turnovers so don’t give them easy baskets. They are 27th in the league in that category, but the Nuggets committed 20 turnovers against the Clippers so they are not out of the woods in that category either. Overall, I think all Denver fans would really enjoy seeing a game where the offense clicks on all cylinders. Of course, it is wishful thinking but the Nuggets might not get a better chance at this all year.