Fresh off a ho hum beating at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Denver Nuggets hop on a plane to head to Portland to face a rebuilding Trail Blazers team. The offseason was not kind to Portland. They lost arguably their best player in LaMarcus Aldridge to the San Antonio Spurs, sharpshooter Wesley Matthews left for the Dallas Mavericks and starting center Robin Lopez sought greener pastures with the New York Knicks. Portland still has their dynamic point guard Damian Lillard but he is hampered with plantar fasciitis, an injury all to familiar to Denver sports fans as Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has been sidelined for over a month with the same ailment. To Lillard’s credit, he’s been trying to gut it out but has been unable to go the past few games.

On the bright side for Portland, C.J. McCollum is having a breakout year for them. McCollum has tripled, that’s right TRIPLED, his production in points, rebounds and assists this season. With Lillard sidelined McCollum has shown that he is more than a deadly scorer/shooter and has been a solid fill in as a distributor and quarterback of the Portland offense. Without a doubt he’ll be priority #1 for the Nuggets if Lillard doesn’t play. Meanwhile, the Nuggets have looked better despite the fact they currently are on a three game losing streak. They have in fact dropped six of their last seven but the first three losses of that set were marred with poor performance and blown leads. The Nuggets have since performed admirably against the who’s who of the NBA but have not had the talent to overcome superior teams. Tonight they get a fairly even match up talent wise but will have to overcome the fatigue of playing their fourth game in five nights.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (12-20) vs Portland Trail Blazers (13-20)

When: 8 P.M. MST

Where: Moda Center, Portland OR

How to Watch: Altitude TV

Rival Blog: Blazer's Edge

Portland Trail Blazers Denver Nuggets Advantage
PG Damian Lillard Jameer Nelson Blazers
SG C.J. McCollum Gary Harris Blazers
SF Al-Farouq Aminu Kostas Papanikolaou Blazers
PF Noah Vonleh Kenneth
C Mason Plumlee Joffrey Lauvergne Blazers
Bench Meyers Leonard, Maurice Harkless, Tim Frazier, Gerald Henderson, Cliff Alexander, Allen Crabbe, Ed Davis Will Barton, Randy Foye, Nikola Jokic, Mike Miller,Darrell Arthur, J.J. Hickson Even

Injury Report: Danilo Gallinari – Out (Ankle), Emmanuel Mudiay – Out (Ankle), Jusuf Nurkic – Out (knee), Wilson Chandler – Out (hip), Damian Lillard – Questionable (foot), Ed Davis – Probable (ankle)

Key match up: Gary Harris vs C.J. McCollum

As we said, McCollum is a beast and he is without a doubt the run away leader for most improved player of the year at this point. However, Harris' improvement this season should not be understated. A timid rookie last season, Gary has had anything but a sophomore slump and has shown how fully confident he is with his offensive game. His shooting numbers have improved drastically this season and he's become one of the more reliable outside threats for Denver. To go with his burgeoning offensive prowess, Harris is a terror on defense and truly has the ability to be special on that end of the floor. McCollum is a bit undersized for a two guard just like Gary so this makes for one excellent match up.

Key thing to watch for: Will Barton makes his return to Portland

If not for McCollum's explosion this season a lot of people would be touting Barton for the MIP award. With the absence of Danilo Gallinari, Barton has become the #1 option on offense for Denver and he hasn't disappointed. He's averaging 16.3 points per game this season and has been averaging over 20 for the past ten games. Coupled with his scoring, Barton brings solid rebounding ability for a guard and his ability to fill up the stat sheet has him just a hair under Kenneth Faried for tops on the team in efficiency rating. It's far enough along in the season to start throwing out any sample size arguments that might say Barton's production is a fluke and it's going to be exciting to watch what he will do against his former team in a game he's undoubtedly going to be highly motivated.

Can the Nuggets show their recent mental fortitude is not a fluke?

No one expected Denver to be competing for a playoff spot (even though they still are) this season but it's fair to say things have gone worse than expected. The four guys that are out tonight are arguably four of the top five players on the team. The injuries have piled on top of the youthful mistakes Denver is bound to make (and has been making) and simply put it's been a rough go for Denver to start the year. Right now they find themselves in the absolute toughest grind of the season but as we said, they've given it their all against some very quality opponents. They're tired, they're hurt and they've been over matched but if the team can come out and somehow pull out a victory on the road, on the fourth game in five nights and against a division rival it will speak volumes to where this team is at mentally right now.

Prediction: Give me some optimism, it'll be sloppy but Denver will take the "W" 101-96.