Fresh off a disappointing loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Denver Nuggets find themselves in Portland to take on a division rival in the Trail Blazers where they will attempt to end a three game preseason losing streak. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are coming off their first loss in the preseason, a game that appeared close by the final score (109-108) but was really in hand for the Los Angeles Clippers early on.

For the Blazers it starts with Damian Lillard, the high scoring, uber athletic, do it all, all-star point guard. Lillard looks like he could probably start the regular season tomorrow and be just fine, he tallied up 19 points on just 9 shots in Portland’s last game. He’s joined in the backcourt by the reigning Most Improved Player of the Year in C.J. McCollum an undersized but effective two guard who can light up the scoreboard. The rest of the roster is filled out with rangy, versatile and athletic players such as Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless, Noah Vonleh and Evan Turner (ok, so maybe Turner’s not THAT athletic).

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (2-3) vs Portland Trail Blazers (3-1)

When: 7:00 P.M. MDT

Where: Moda Center, Portland OR

How to watch/listen: NBATV & 950AM Altitude Radio

Rival blog: Blazer’s Edge (which is an awesome blog btw, check them out!)

Nuggets Trail Blazers Advantage
PG Jameer Nelson Damian Lillard Blazers
SG Will Barton C.J. McCollum Blazers
SF Danilo Gallinari Maurice Harkless Nuggets
PF Nikola Jokic Al farouq Aminu Nuggets
C Jusuf Nurkic Mason Plumlee Even
Bench Jamal Murray, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Malik Beasley, Jarnell Stokes, Juancho Hernangomez, Mike Miller Meyers Leonard, Noah Vonleh, Allen Crabbe, Shabazz Napier, Ed Davis, Evan Turner, Pat Connaughton, Jake Layman, Grant Jerret Even

Injury report: Emmanuel Mudiay – out (ankle), Darrell Arthur – out (knee), Gary Harris – out (groin), Festus Ezeli – out (knee).

Key thing to watch for: Murray should get some burn at point

The Nuggets, and more specifically coach Michael Malone, have been adamant that Jamal Murray can play the point guard position. Well, with Mudiay out Murray should get his chance to run the offense for extended periods of time tonight. I expect Jameer Nelson will start but given that the vet probably doesn’t need anymore preseason to be ready for the regular season and Murray is a rookie who needs all the time he can get, don’t be surprised to see the Blue Arrow out there running the offense with the starters tonight.

What will be even more interesting to watch will be the defensive side of the ball. Murray’s defense and ability to stop the ball was considered one of his weaknesses coming out of college and tonight he’s likely going to find himself matched up against one of the Association’s marquee point guards in Lillard. Lillard is a master at getting into the lane for easy shots or kick outs to wide open opponents so when Murray finds himself guarding the all-star he’s going to have his hands absolutely full. I shudder to think what Lillard is going to do while Nelson attempts to guard him.

Key match up: C.J. McCollum vs Will Barton

Barton was once a Blazer and when it came time to decide which young two guard the Portland was going to lean on in the future they chose McCollum and shipped Barton to the Nuggets. While McCollum has been great for the Blazers, Barton has been almost as good for the Nuggets. With Gary Harris still nursing a groin injury Barton will get the start tonight and he and MCollum will see the bulk of their minutes matched up against each other.

Both players are similar in style in the sense that they are score first guards who do most of their damage on the offensive end. Neither one would be considered an outstanding defender, though Barton should get the edge in that category as he is better at defense in general and also has the edge in length. McCollum is a shooting guard in every sense of the word, with above average ability to shoot and the majority of his shots coming sixteen feet away from the basket or further. Meanwhile Barton is more of a slasher/fastbreak player (though he’s a decent shooter as well) who excels at finishing at the rim.

Opening thought: Let’s just start this thing already

Eight preseason games feels really excessive. Denver has already lost two starters to injury this preseason and could ill afford anymore. For example, if Nelson were to get hurt it would force Denver’s hand and make them keep Nate Wolters even though all indications seem to be that Jarnell Stokes is who they’d like to give the final roster spot to. At this point coach Malone seems to know who he’s going with in his rotation and is only using the fourth quarter as a time to experiment. Experimentation is nice and all but I think coach would agree he’d rather just have a full roster of healthy players on opening night against the New Orleans Pelicans. Speaking of opening night…

***Stiffs Night Out***

We will be hosting SNO on opening night (October 26) at our home sports bar, Jake's Sports & Spirits in Denver's vibrant RiNo neighborhood at 3800 Walnut Street, Denver CO. Located conveniently across the street from the new 38th and Blake Commuter Rail Station and just five minutes (by car) from Coors Field. Jake's will extend happy hour for all Stiffs attendees.

The event is free to attend and all ages are welcome. It’s a great way to meet fellow Nuggets fans and Stiffs readers in a fun and friendly environment. We look forward to seeing you there!