I’m not sure but I’m pretty sure this as significant as a second game of the season can be.
Ok, so win, lose or draw this still won’t be the end of the world, but you can’t argue that there is some significance to tonight’s contest. It’s the Nuggets and Blazers. Some believe it’s a rivalry, I still think it’s in between. Either way the Nugs are the Blazers main competition in the Northwest Division. Both teams shared the division title as co-champions…although honestly, since we lost the tie-breaker doesn’t that mean we weren’t really division champs *ducks*. Anyways, it’s the Nuggets, in the Rose Garden, in front of a national TV audience on TNT. Doesn’t get much moer fun than that. If we learned anything from last year, it’s that every game against Denver is going to count. When we really have to start looking at tie-breakers in the spring, this game is going to count big. Also, we need to win games against Northwest Division opponents if we want to be the sole Northwest Division champions (and the higher seed that brings).
(And yes I’m still bitter. Thanks Oklahoma City.)
This game is also significant because it’s the Blazers first true ‘test’. No offense to the Rockets but they are still a work in progress. And while the tested the Blazers toughness and ability to finish off an opponent, the cupboard was pretty bare in a few ways. Bless Chuck Hayes heart but not a lot of size offensively and not a lot of creativity offensively. Denver is seemingly the exact opposite. You don’t put 114 on a Sloan-coached team without having something in the tank. Prior to last night I had talked the Nuggets down. I had convinced myself that last year was their ‘perfect storm’ and that it couldn’t get much better. ‘No way they get that kind of production from Nene, Andersen, JR Smith and co. and they didn’t add anything’. And then I saw George Karl’s interview where he said ‘We added Nene as an All-Star, Melo as an MVP candidate and that kid from North Carolina is gonna play’. And then I saw the Nuggets go to work last night, without JR Smith on the floor or Linas Kleiza in the country. And then I gulped.
This Denver team isn’t much different than the Denver team we saw last year. Technically they didn’t add much except for Ty Lawson, but they do have the advantage of having played together for a whole year. Arron Afflalo looks to be playing the role of Dahntay Jones this year. While Lawson is just a human sparkplug. Their disadvantage looks to be their depth. Joey Graham, Malik Allen and Renaldo Balkman do not strike fear into my heart. Also, while they played great last night, losing the offensive punch of JR Smith has to take its toll. The rest of the gang is all there and you know what you’re getting. Two superstars looking to relentlessly attack (Chauncey, Carmelo). You’re going to get a tough, physical frontline who defends the paint well and rebounds (K-Mart, Nene, Birdman). Role players (Anthony Carter, Afflalo) and an intriguing X-Factor (Lawson). Nothing is going to be easy tonight.
I like that the Blazers have to go up against Denver in the second game of the season. It’s a great early season test to see what we really have on both ends. Denver can be explosive offensively so we’ll see how the defense holds up. Denver just plays so hard and so physical, I’m interested to see how Portland reacts. In the past the Nuggets have given us fits. It’ll be interesting to see if Portland is in attack mode or settling for jumpers. To see if that same offensive balance that was around on Tuesday against Houston, is around tonight. Remember last year, the Nuggets were one of the first teams to expose to the world how dependent we can be on Brandon Roy. We’ve made moves and have depth to counteract that, we’ll see if it happens tonight.
Keys to the Game
- Energy from the start. Home teams have to like playing a team that’s coming into the back end of a back to back. The Nuggets played a chippy contest against the Jazz last night, one that was back and forth until a fourth quarter run. Then they took a snowy flight to Portland. The Blazers have a chance to jump on them early but it’s going to take a lot of energy and effort. They are talent but they are not very deep. Make Graham, Balkman, Allen or Lawson play a large amount of minutes.
- Limit the turnovers. I’m not sure how we got away with turning the ball over 26 times Tuesday and winning comfortably, but that won’t happen tonight. If we turn it over 20+ times tonight we will get blown out. Case closed. We don’t have the luxury of having that many possessions go to waste against such a good team.
- Rebound, rebound, rebound. Oden/LMA/Joel vs. Nene/K-Mart/Birdman is going to be a battle royale in the paint tonight. If the Blazers can win the rebound advantage, good things should happen. If they get out-physical-ed and out-toughed, we can’t be too pleased with the results. The Blazer frontline has to send a message tonight. And I’m mainly staring a hole through you Mr. Aldridge. You get paid the big bucks now, so get some boards.
- Be aggressive, b-e aggressive. Denver loves to play physical. Portland is going to have to match that for 48 minutes. That means attacking the basket instead of settling for jumpers. That means getting to the free throw line, protecting the paint, all of that.
- Keep Steve Blake as far away from Ty Lawson as possible. Seriously. I don’t want to see Blake guard Lawson at all. Especially since he tweeted about ‘wanting to go at teams neck’ who didn’t draft him.
- Win the battle of the second units. On paper our bench is better than their bench, with ease. Dominate this area. Miller, Fernandez and Outlaw have to continue to be game changers.
- Contain Carmelo and Chauncey. This is obvious. If we can contain one of these two we’ve got a great chance. The Nuggets are without JR Smith so they don’t really have a third scoring option on the perimeter, unless Ty Lawson goes off again. Carmelo scares me because I’m not sure who we have that can guard him. I’m interested to see Chauncey vs. Andre Miller. Why? Isn’t this one of the reasons we signed Miller? To go against the bigger (and better) PG’s in the West.