Game Details: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO. 7:00 PM. TV: KGW. 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 Joel Przybilla (#10, 7′1″, Minnesota)
Projected Denver Starting Lineup: PG Chauncey Billups (#1, 6’3″, Colorado), SF Arron Afflalo (#6, 6’5″, UCLA), SF Carmelo Anthony (#15, 6’8″, Syracuse), PF Kenyon Martin (#4, 6’9″, Cincinnati), C Nene Hilario (#31, 6’11″, Brazil)
Another day, another playoff team that blew Portland out in December. A win tonight in Denver, however, wouldn’t come as quite the surprise last night’s stunning 13-point victory over the Spurs did. Portland beat Denver in November, in one of the first games Wesley Matthews started in place of Brandon Roy. This Northwest Division rivalry, however, does tend to be one where the home team usually wins, so the Blazers are at a slight disadvantage coming into the Pepsi Center tonight.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Carmelo Anthony will be squaring off against the Blazers (likely Nicolas Batum) tonight, and he will be the primary focus of their defensive effort. The uncertainty surrounding his future in Denver has reached a LeBron/Favre/Tiger level of annoyance by now, but as of tonight, he is still a Nugget, and he is still one of the most formidable scorers in the NBA.
But the potential matchup problems for Portland don’t end with Melo. The last time these teams played, Denver’s big-man rotation (outside of Nene Hilario) was about as solid as Portland’s is now. Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen, and Chris Andersen’s tattoos have dealt with injuries this year but are healthy now, while Marcus Camby is not, and Joel Przybilla is still limited. D-League call-up Chris Johnson played well in his short first-half shift last night against San Antonio, but Andersen and Martin are physical defenders and Johnson is notoriously skinny for his size.
In the past, the matchup at point guard between reliable veterans Andre Miller and Chauncey Billups has been a factor in these teams’ matchups, but now that Patty Mills has emerged as a player capable of playing big minutes, don’t be surprised if Nate McMillan plays him for extended minutes to pick up the pace against the aging Billups.
This game will be a tough one, between the altitude change and the home-and-away back-to-back, but it’s winnable. Denver hasn’t enjoyed the kind of homecourt advantage they usually do at the Pepsi Center—fans have grown weary of the Carmelo trade talks, and the team’s sense of uncertainty is at times obvious. If Batum can contain Melo at least somewhat (he’ll get his 25 points or so, but don’t let him go off like LaMarcus Aldridge did last night against the Spurs). Aldridge should have another big night, but steady offense from Rudy Fernandez, Patty Mills, and Wesley Matthews will help.