Tonight the Portland Trail Blazers (40-18) host the Denver Nuggets (25-32). The teams met in Denver four days ago, with the Trail Blazers holding on for a 100-95 win. Tonight’s game will be the fourth and final match-up of the season against the Nuggets.
LaMarcus Aldridge could make his much anticipated return tonight. The All-Star forward practiced yesterday and will be a game-time decision. Everyone thought the Trail Blazers would falter without Aldridge for a week. Aren’t you supposed to lose when your best player is sidelined with an injury?
Ask Damian Lillard that question. Ask Robin Lopez that question. Heck, you can even ask Will Barton that question. With LaMarcus Aldridge on the sideline, the Trail Blazers won four out of five games. The loss came against the Spurs, in a game they only lost by two. The Trail Blazers enter tonight’s game on a four game winning streak and seem to have found their mojo again. Wednesday night was proof of that.
A 44 point win. That’s what the Trail Blazers ended up with on Wednesday when they beat up on the Nets (124-80). That game featured small ball at it’s finest. Without Aldridge, Leonard, Freeland, and Robinson, the Trail Blazers had seven of their 11 active players score in double figures. Will Barton played 28 minutes off the bench, which was one minute less than Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard, and tied with Wesley Matthews. Adding Aldridge back in the mix will likely take away minutes from some that may have earned extra playing time in his absence. However, I don’t think it will stop this team from winning.
The Denver Nuggets have also been bitten by the injury bug. The contrast from the Trail Blazers couldn’t be more visible. The Nuggets have lost four consecutive games (as well as nine of the last 10) and have been without their leading scorer Ty Lawson for the last nine games. They will most likely be without Lawson again tonight and will have to look for some sort of spark to pull off the upset.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- LaMarcus Aldridge practiced Thursday and Friday and will be a game-time decision tonight.
- Joel Freeland is still out with an MCL sprain in his right knee.
- Meyers Leonard also practiced this week and will be a game-time decision.
- Thomas Robinson did not practice on Friday. His knee injury will most likely keep him out for tonight’s game.
- Ty Lawson will be out for tonight’s game. He has been able to resume non-contract drills and participate in weight regimens.
- Wilson Chandler will be a game-time decision. He did not play on Thursday even after going through morning shootaround.
- Nate Robinson is out for the season after having surgery to repair a torn left ACL he suffered in January.
- Danilo Gallinari is also out for the season after undergoing reconstructive ACL surgery.
- Darrell Arthur is listed as day-to-day. He hasn’t played since last Friday after suffering a left hip strain.
- JaVale McGee had season-ending surgery last Thursday and is out for the rest of the season. McGee had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left tibia.
Keys To The Game
Trail Blazers vs. J.J. Hickson. Everyone on the Trail Blazers can score. They just went 11 players deep and dropped 124 points. We also know that defense comes secondary on this team. Something tells me they might have worked on rebounding this week. In the game against the Nuggets on Tuesday, the Blazers gave up 27 offensive rebounds. J.J. Hickson finished the game with 15 offensive rebounds and 25 overall. In an article written by Mike Tokito, who covers the Trail Blazers for The Oregonian, Terry Stotts laid out tonight’s game plan. “We have to do a better job of putting bodies on them, but that’s like saying you’re going to keep a guy who takes a lot of shots from shooting. He’s going to find shots, and J.J. is going to rebounds. You have to minimize how many he gets.”
LaMarcus Aldridge. If this is in fact Aldridge’s first game back since the All-Star break, the Trail Blazers are lucky it’s against the Nuggets. In the last four games against the Nuggets, Aldridge is averaging 30.3 points. I don’t expect him to come back and drop 30 points but he will have an impact on the game. His impact will be felt by those who have filled in for him during his injury. Dorell Wright and Will Barton will not see the floor as much. Just the way it goes.
Robin Lopez. We have already covered the rebounding game plan for tonight. That will definitely include Robin Lopez. Over the last 10 games, Lopez has averaged 11.4 points and 10.7 rebounds. For comparison, his season averages are 10.7 points and 8.6 rebounds. In Denver on Tuesday, Lopez posted another double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. RoLo (as he is referred to by many in Portland) has been irreplaceable. He will be called upon again tonight to defend the paint, rebound, and occasionally score.