On Wednesday night, when the Denver Nuggets roll into the Rose Garden to face the Blazers, there’s a pretty good chance that this will be the game with the biggest gap in trajectory between the two teams facing off. The Nuggets have lost seven games in the last two months, they’re currently two and a half games from home court advantage in the first round of the Playoffs, and even though they didn’t (or at least haven’t) lived up to the major hype dumped on them in the pre-season by the likes of John Hollinger, the Nuggets are AT WORST a second-round Playoff out.
We all know where the Blazers are and where they are going. More than that, though, Portland is right on the verge of being well within the rational time frame for shutting down their “Playoff run” rhetoric and handing 20 minutes a night to Meyers Leonard, Victor Claver, Will Barton, and maybe even Joel Freeland. The Nuggets are on the up, heading in exactly the right direction. The Blazers are heading in the right direction too, but they’re still on the down-side of the upswing (if that makes any sense).
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Nuggets Starting 5: PG Ty Lawson, SG Andre Iguodala, SF Wilson Chandler, PF Kenneth Faried, C Kosta Koufos
Portland has beaten Denver, and they can beat Denver. Those facts aren’t up for debate. What is, though, is whether or not on Wednesday night the Blazers will have that same mojo they dug up for their pretty inspiring win last week over the Boston Celtics.
In that win, Portland needed a little bit of everything, 10 rebounds from Victor Claver, five threes from Wesley Matthews, clutch work in the paint from Damian Lillard. If the Blazers can com up with those same kind of plays against the Nuggets, they’ll be in good shape.
However, there are some significant differences between the Nuggets and the Celtics, even if both teams get the bulk of their scoring from the wings and rely on speedy ball handlers to penetrate and create space. Boston is a grind-it-out defensive team. By comparison, Denver is totally fine with simply trying to outscore their opponent. Over the course of this month, the Nuggets have only failed to score 100 points one time.
Coincidentally, that one sub 100-point game was a home win by Denver over the Celtics. In all four of their losses in February, the Nuggets scored at least 108 points. Even in losing efforts, this Denver squad can fill it up.
The upside, though, is the Nuggets play fast and loose, with little to no emphasis on shut-down defense. Portland will be able to score, that won’t be the issue. If the Blazers want to get a win Wednesday, they’ll need to put all of their energy into defense. Denver will give up scores. If Portland can avoid getting caught up in a scoring contest, they’ll have a chance Wednesday.
What to Watch For
- Eric Maynor. My prediction is that Maynor will finish his first run of Blazer games (from the Celtics game until the end of the season) averaging between 20 and 25 minutes per. Maynor played 14 minutes and 49 seconds in his debut on Sunday. He wasn’t amazing, but to his credit it was his longest run in an NBA game since logging basically 20 minutes with the Thunder in a game way back on the 1st of December. Portland’s newest acquisition has played more than 20 minutes only twice this season. He’ll go over 20 minutes at least 10 times as the Blazers play out what remains of 2012-13. My guess is he hits that 20 minute mark for the first time Wednesday night. Maynor knows how to run the point, he’s a confident ball player, and he’s out to prove that OKC made a big mistake by swapping him to an in-division rival for absolutely nothing. Maynor will go head to head with Andre Miller, Wednesday night. That might be the match-up to watch.
- Can Portland get some contributions from unexpected places. Victor Claver is coming off his very best run of the season. Hopefully he’ll be able to follow it up. Will Barton plays well when the other team plays no defense. Joel Freeland still has a ton of potential. If one of those guys can put together a big night, the Blazers will put themselves in position to get a win.
- Shooting. Portland has become a knock-down shooting team. When they make their shots they win. Last time the Nuggets and the Blazers played in the Rose Garden, Denver couldn’t make a shot outside of the painted area. The Nuggets aren’t going to miss all 22 of their three-point attempts again, and the Blazers aren’t going to win if they once again give up 74 points in the paint, however, if Portland can knock down a decent number of jump shots, they can win on Wednesday.