The Denver Nuggets (9-8) were on a winning streak of five games after starting the season 4-4. Since their winning streak, they’ve lost four straight games, and they’ll be looking to turn things around tonight. That won’t be the easiest of tasks as they head West to take on the Portland Trail Blazers (9-8) who have won three straight games entering tonight. 

This figures to be an interesting contest for Denver, as they’ve been snakebitten with injuries early in the year with Nikola Jokic nursing a wrist injury that has him questionable for tonight, along with rookie Bones Hyland, who has already been ruled out. Throw in the possible season-ending injury to Michael Porter Jr., and Denver is currently sitting squarely behind the injury eight ball. 

For Portland, they’re wrapping up a four-game homestand that started following their 29-point loss to the Nuggets nine days ago. They’re 8-1 at home this season compared to just 1-7 on the road, and this game would knot the series at 1-1 in what has been one of the NBA’s best rivalries over the last few seasons. Portland was bounced by Denver in the first round of last year’s playoffs, and I’m sure they’re looking for some revenge following their past defeats.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (9-8, 2-5 away) @ Portland Trail Blazers (9-8, 8-1 home)

When: 8:00 p.m. MST

Where: Moda Center

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 in Portland. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Blazers Edge

Expected Starting Lineups:

POR: PG Damian Lillard, SG C.J. McCollum, SF Norman Powell, PF Robert Covington, C Jusuf Nurkic

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

Injuries: Vlatko Čančar (hip), Michael Porter Jr. (back), Bones Hyland (ankle), Nikola Jokic (wrist)

Three Things to Watch

Jokic vs Nurkic

In the playoffs last season, this was the battle that decided just about every game. Obviously, the play of Damian Lillard and the other Portland players mattered, but, if you just checked the box score of the two centers, you could guess which team won. In Portland’s two wins, Nurkic had 33 points on 13-of-18 shooting while averaging 3.5 fouls per game. In their four losses, he had five or more fouls in all four games, including fouling out in three of the four. When Jokic is able to get fouls called against Nurkic, Portland’s defense doesn’t have enough other players to sustain his absence. 

Dame Time

Lillard is coming off of his highest scoring outing of the season, as he put up 39 points in the team’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers, including getting to the line for 14 free throws. With Hyland and Porter out, Denver doesn’t have the firepower to let this game turn into a shootout where Dame puts up 45 points on the night. They have to slow him down early and hound him all game long. 

Is this an Aaron Gordon game?

Aaron Gordon put up his Nuggets’ career-high with 28 points against the Chicago Bulls, and it was the first time since he arrived in Denver that he had scored more than 24 points. With injuries to the rest of the roster, the recently paid forward needs to step up in a big way in this matchup. He will have a size advantage all night against Norman Powell, and he has an athleticism advantage against Robert Covington. If Portland is making a concerted effort to get Jokic away from the rim, that will draw Nurkic out, and Gordon should take advantage by cutting hard and being ready for the ball. He is the type of player that should succeed in this matchup, and he just needs to go out and do it.