Blazers/Nuggets Pre-Thoughts

The Northwest Division title may no longer be up for grabs, but there is plenty on the line tonight in the Rose Garden.

The Denver Nuggets come into town sporting their non-existing division title championship belts against the Blazers. This will of course be the final game of the season for both teams. However, this isn’t your meaningless, “Fan Appreciation Night”, end of the season game. (EDIT: It actually IS Fan Appreciation Night. The joke’s still funny though. I think.) Oh no, those days are long gone for the Blazers. As a matter of fact…both teams still have a lot to play for. Well actually the Blazers fit way more into the ‘a lot to play for’ category. It’s not a meaningless game for the Nuggets as they more than likely want the #2 seed and need to win to keep it. The Blazers on the other hand? Tres important if you’re classy. Portland…well if you look at any playoff scenario page your head will explode. Literally. I’ll put the Men’s Warehouse guarantee on that one. I tried to figure it out but got a headache and stopped out of fear for my own life. All the different scenarios and the grasping for third place and all that…no, no, no. System overload. Here is what I do know: Portland needs home-court advantage if they want to have success in the post-season. I don’t think anyone is disagreeing with that. To get home-court advantage they need to win. Do we need to go much furthur than that? Just win. A Blazer win means they can finish no lower than 4th due to owning the tie-breaker over San Antonio. And last time I checked 4th place gives you home-court advantage. Boom, nailed it.

In all seriousness, in this scenario when you have control of your own destiny, you want to do the job yourself. Ask any college basketball team and they’ll tell you they’d rather have their fate in their own hands then having to depend on someone else. Of course this is a different scenario than being on the bubble but you see what I mean. I’m sure the Blazers want to take care of business on their own as well. Depending on New Orleans and Dallas just isn’t something I’m down with right now. Note the keyword: depending. I’m down for scoreboard watching, channel-flipping and rooting them on. But needing them to win…no bueno.

That whole “winning ” thing will not be easy. Portland faces a challenge ahead of them. Denver’s the Division Champs for a reason. I was definitely one of the people who predicted them to be at the bottom of Western Conference and I’d like to apologize. I haven’t been this wrong since I said Obama’s dog was going to be ugly (say what you want but tell me this picture doesn’t make you smile. Yeah you’re cheesing right now don’t lie). The Nuggets are pretty serious this year. Not only that but they are finishing their season on that classic Denver run they always go on . Is there a better March/early April team than the Nuggets? The past few years they always make a run during this time of the year. Generally that run is to stay in the playoffs (i.e. last year). This year? It’s to push themselves to the #2 spot and that they have done. Billups and Anthony are surrounded by role players who fit in perfectly. A tough frontline who defends the paint well and rebounds (Birdman, Nene, K-Mart), a deadly shooter (JR Smith), a streaky guy (Kleiza), and two guys who define solid role players (Dahntay Jones, Anthony Carter).

Reason #1 for this ressurgence? Chauncey Billups. I will have no qualms about him getting MVP votes for Brandon Roy, because without Chauncey Billups the Nuggets are fighting to make the playoffs. Bold statement indeed but that’s just how strongly I feel about it. Billups has gone way past filling both the Nuggets PG void and leadership void which was really their greatest weakness. He’s doing more damage to AI’s rep than anyone will know for a few years. Reason #2? The emergence of JR Smith as a third option. You can’t downgrade JR Smith with ‘he got lucky’ type statements anymore because he has been balling. Just a career year from this guy. These two fixed the greatest flaws of the Denver Nuggets: lack of PG (check) , lack of leadership (check) and lack of a third option (check). Everyone forgets that these were the things that were holding the Nuggets back from being great. The thing about Denver though…they are only an adequate road team. 21-19 is only (holdyourfingersthisclose) *that* much better than Portland’s road record. And people love to go on record calling Portland a poor road team. They’re also only 4-8 on the road against Western Conference playoff teams. So while I will give the Nuggets their due but to quote the great Charli Turner Thorne…’THEY AIN’T SO BAD!’

I couldn’t think of a better opponent to play right before the playoffs than Denver. Not just because of the atmosphere that will be in the Rose Garden–I guess I’m still missing out on the whole Denver-as-a-rival deal, but a couple more of Birdman’s escapades could skew me–but because of the physical nature in which the Nuggets play. They were the first team to expose just how much we depended on Brandon Roy. Their frontline has tended to have us settling for jumpers. It’s a good test for how physical we can play and how well we can execute. Both which are the foundation of success in the post-season.

Keys to success:

  • Contain Carmelo Anthony. We’ve only faced Melo once and the results weren’t pretty as he dropped 36 and never looked back. The key is to make life hard on him. Make him settle for contested jumpers. Get him disinterested. Bother him. I’ll take a jumpshooting Carmelo over a slashing and posting up Carmelo everyday of the week and twice on Sunday. Especially when you consider that our perimeter defenders aren’t exactly bulky to stop him.
  • Find JR Smith. FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING THAT YOU LOVE FIND JR SMITH. I never thought I’d ever say that…but when you hit 11 three’s in a game you get this kind of respect. I wanted to talk about him earlier but got caught up talking about the Nuggets. He’s having a career-year. The man just hit 11 three pointers the other night. In the last five games he’s averaging 24.8 points and shooting 46% from behind the arc. That 46 percent is impressive because it’s off 52 attempts. He’s on an absolute hot streak and is a game-changer when he’s on. Case in point, Denver is 11-3 when Smith hits 4+ three’s. Can’t afford to lose him.
  • Be the aggressor. Obviously, Portland is going to have to match Denver’s physical play. Portland is also going to have to be the aggressor. They are going to have to attack the Nuggets and not settle for jumpers offensively. They are going to have to be ready to protect the paint. They are going to have to be ready to rebound. It’s going to be a battle for 48 minutes and Portland will have a much better chance if they deliver the first blow instead of receiving it.
  • Limit the turnovers. Portland is generally really good at this but against the Nuggets, Portland has struggled with some sloppy play. In the three previous games the Blazers have turned it over 13 times twice and 15 times once. Credit Denver who does a really good job of getting teams to turn it over. But at home against a good team you have to be able to execute and take care of the ball. No need to give them extra possessions or easy buckets.
  • The X-Factors must show up. Blake, Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw have to show up offensively. Oden has to give meaningful minutes. Denver is going to key in on Brandon Roy with their schemes, we know this. We also know they have the beef to make life harder than usual for LaMarcus Aldridge. These three guys are going to have to take advantage of their oppurtunities. If two of these three play well we have a great chance of winning. We all know they are going to have to show up if we want to win in the post-season.
  • Watch out for Kleiza. I know this being a ‘key to success’ should get the same reaction as your friend telling you Shawn Johnson is hot even though he knows she’s 17. ‘WHAT?!?’. I know, he as inconsistent as can be but for some reason I have this gut feeling that he’s a Blazer Killer. And I was right. In the three previous games he’s averaged 17.3 points. If Denver can get production out of him, look out.

And there you have it. Whether you think this is a rivalry or not, it’s the Blazers playing meaningful basketball on the last day of the season for the first time in who knows when. That has to get you a little giddy. The stage is set for one last regular season game before Portland re-enters the post-season. Homecourt advantage is one the line. Rip City Uprise indeed.

(NOTE: Just an interesting thought I picked up from reading Pickaxe and Roll’s preview that for some reason had escaped me…by the time the Portland and Denver play, both Houston and San Antonio will have completed their contests. Both teams will know what’s on the line. If the Rockets lose then Denver gets the #2 seed and has nothing to play for. Not saying they would shut it down but its a thought.)

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Tags: Blazers Fan Appreciation Night Brandon Roy Carmelo Anthony Chauncey Billups Denver Nuggets Greg Oden Home Court Advantage Blazers JR Smith LaMarcus Aldridge Playoff Scenarios Portland Trail Blazers Rose Garden Rudy Fernandez Steve Blake Travis Outlaw

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