Preview: Nuggets return to Portland

Denver visits Portland for the first time this year, looking to avoid a repeat of last year’s March debacle

After a 5-1 homestand in which the Denver Nuggets uncovered some of its offensive potential as well as its point guard production, they hit the road against division foe and Jusuf-Nurkic-containing rival the Portland Trail Blazers. The Nuggets fell short last year measuring themselves against the Trail Blazers at the end of the season and this is a good opportunity to show that the new year - and Paul Millsap - have made them a better team.

Portland meanwhile is struggling to find any consistency. They haven’t won or lost more than two games in a row all season as they sit at .500, and while their defense has been effective (6th in the league in PPG-against) their assist rate is next-to-last in the league while their assists-against has been first - an artifact of how they play that hasn’t made its way to consistent scoreboard results. It’s been a mixed bag as they haven’t found that stride that carried them down the stretch and into the playoffs last year. Denver’s goal is to make sure they don’t find it against the Nuggets.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (8-5) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (6-6)

When: 8:00 PM MDT

Where: The Rose Garden (I don’t care what it’s called now), Portland OR

How to watch: Altitude

Rival blog: Blazer’s Edge

Injury Report

Gary Harris - shoulder (questionable), Damian Lillard - finger of non-shooting hand (likely), Jusuf Nurkic - back (probable), Al-Farouq Aminu - out (ankle)

Three Thoughts

Can Denver’s guards hold up without Harris? Gary Harris is a big part of Denver’s attack on both ends of the court. Slowing either Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum is not an easy task (they combine for 48 points a night) and trying to do it without Harris is a recipe for trouble. If the Nuggets can’t hold those two back, they’ll have to keep up - so both Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray need to retain the scoring touch they found this past week and pack it for the road.

Can Jokic hold off Jusuf Nurkic?

The Nuggets have Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee and obviously Nikola Jokic to throw at Jusuf Nurkic in the hopes of slowing down his game. In what was essentially an elimination game last spring, Nurkic had 33 points and 15 rebounds to help defeat the Nuggets. Denver cannot afford for that to happen again. With guards that may be overmatched by the Lillard/McCollum tandem mentioned above, Denver cannot give up the front court advantage they should possess against the Trail Blazers despite Nurkic’s presence. His coach sat him for most of the fourth quarter in their last game and might have left the locker room early (sound familiar Nuggets fans?) but today indicated it wasn’t a big deal. Keeping Nurkic as a minor note in the game would be a major success for Denver, and go a long way toward helping them secure a victory.

Denver needs the kind of well-rounded production that Portland doesn’t get. And keeping the Trail Blazers from finding a 4th scorer (or even a third one by limiting Nurkic) would be a great help. The Trail Blazers have Lillard averaging 25 points a game and McCollum at 23, but after Nurkic’s 15.5 there isn’t another player over 10. They rely on that 4th player to step up every night out of the pool of contenders.

The Nuggets on the other hand have six players with 12 or more points-per-game and no one over 17.2. It’s a contest of carrying-the-load vs. sharing-the-load, and the Nuggets have to make sure they make those extra passes count.

Prediction: The Nuggets squeak one out in Portland, 109-104.

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