Game Details: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO. 6:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6′5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum(#88, 6′9″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Dante Cunningham (#33, 6′8″, Villanova)
Projected Denver Starting Lineup: PG Chauncey Billups (#1, 6’3″, Colorado), SF Arron Afflalo (#6, 6’5″, UCLA), SF J.R. Smith (#5, 6’6″, St. Benedict’s Preparatory School), PF Kenyon Martin (#4, 6’9″, Cincinnati), C Nene Hilario (#31, 6’11″, Brazil)
Before I begin previewing tonight’s matchup between the Trail Blazers and the Northwest Division rival Denver Nuggets, I would first like to extend my thoughts and well wishes to Carmelo Anthony and his family as they deal with the death of Anthony’s sister last week. Anthony has missed the last three Nuggets games to be with his family at this difficult time and it was unclear as of this morning whether he will play in tonight’s game.
If Melo does play, the Blazers’ chances will rest on the ability of Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews to contain him. They did a pretty good job on him the last time these teams played, and the Blazers would have won by a lot more than three points if they had been making their free throws. If Anthony sits out tonight, the Nuggets won’t have a clear go-to scorer to answer a big night from Matthews or LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge in particular needs to contribute in a big way tonight, as he will likely be the team’s only big man not named Sean Marks. Joel Przybilla is still out, and Marcus Camby is questionable after re-injuring his ankle last night against Utah. This could either be Aldridge’s cue to have a huge night or to get pounded by Nene and Kenyon Martin, if they have good nights. Either way, he can’t afford to get into foul trouble early tonight.
The Blazers were without Brandon Roy the last time they played the Nuggets, and Wesley Matthews came through in a big way, posting his first career double-double. In Roy’s absence, Matthews has been spectacular, regularly scoring in double figures and playing solid D. With Anthony possibly out and Denver not having another front-line scorer to replace him, a big night from Matthews would help the Blazers greatly. With Camby likely sidelined, Dante Cunningham will have an opportunity to pick up some pretty big minutes. Good scoring nights from Batum and Rudy Fernandez should also be expected to contribute scoring.
Last night’s win over Utah on the road was probably the highlight of the season so far, given the opponent and Portland’s current struggles. Denver isn’t quite on Utah’s level, but a second consecutive win over a division rival on the road would give the Blazers much firmer footing going into the new year. After a home rematch with the Jazz on Thursday, Portland will have somewhat of an easy schedule for once over the next few weeks. Outside of matchups against Dallas and Miami, they will face Houston twice and Minnesota once with only one back-to-back between the 2nd and 13th of January.