For die-hard Denver Nuggets fans (and lovers of NBA drama in general), tonight’s game between the Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers has been circled on the calendar since the NBA schedule was released. For the first time since he was traded almost a year ago, disgruntled ex-Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic will set foot in Pepsi Center to face the team he basically quit on last season.

But Nurkic’s return doesn’t seem like it will attract the fanfare it was once thought to attract. The Nuggets have larger problems at hand after losing six of their last eight games and after falling completely out of the playoff picture in the process. Lineups are uncertain and the team has quite possibly lost its offensive identity as well. Clearly Denver is searching for answers.

Portland, on the other hand, has won three in a row and sits alone in the sixth playoff spot. Denver beat the Blazers in their last match up, but Damian Lillard was absent from that contest and will be back tonight. Lillard is fresh off of a 31-5-9 game in Saturday’s win over Dallas and will look to continue his hot scoring. For the Nuggets, any sign of life, and more importantly, a win, is sorely needed.

The Basics

Who: Portland Trail Blazers (25-21) at Denver Nuggets (23-23)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

How to Watch: Altitude TV

Rival blog: Blazer’s Edge

Injury Report: Kenneth Faried, questionable (ankle); Paul Millsap, out (wrist), C.J. Wilcox – questionable (knee)

Key Matchup: Nikola Jokic vs. Jusuf Nurkic

All eyes will be on the two centers, who for a time unsuccessfully manned the Denver front court together. Nurkic got the best of Jokic in their first two meetings, but it was Jokic who dominated in December to the tune of 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Nurkic has had an up-and-down season and certainly much of Portland has recovered from “Nurk Fever”, but the Bosnian Beast is still a good player who will relish the opportunity to face Jokic again. The key for Denver will be for the Joker to take it to Nurk once again.

What to Watch For: A Change in Offense?

To say that Denver’s offense has struggled as of late would be an understatement. And as was reported yesterday, Coach Malone knows this and is hoping to get back to a similar style of last year’s team. But what will this actually mean on the court? Will Trey Lyles remain in the starting lineup, or will Nuggets fans be forced to endure a Jokic-Plumlee front court again? Will Jokic be the primary playmaker, or will he continue to serve as a screen man and a far too often spectator on the court? Who will be in the new rotation (if there is one)? Hopefully we can get some answers starting tonight.

Opening Thought

The Nuggets are at a crossroads and this game will be a telltale sign of the direction they’re headed. Much has happened and been said since Denver’s last loss on Friday night, but whether the team can bounce back remains to be seen. With the trade deadline just around the corner, every game is becoming more critical in regards to how the team will be maintained now and in the future. For Denver to stick around, though, getting back on track against a division foe would be a great start.