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Trail Blazers Face Nuggets For First Time

12/20/12
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    Despite injury troubles, the Trail Blazers (11-12) have played well on their home floor in the past week to have a three-game winning streak. With LaMarcus Aldridge out (left ankle sprain), the Trail Blazers will face the Denver Nuggets (14-12) on Thursday night at 7PM on KGW. Brian Wheeler and Antonio Harvey will have the call on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM. A win would give the Trail Blazers their longest winning streak of the season.

        
    •    How do you follow that up? The end to Damian Lillard's week was probably the highlight of Lillard's rookie season so far. He put up a career-high 29 points against the San Antonio Spurs on TNT and then followed up that performance with his first career game-winning shot. Again, the defensive assignment will be tough. Denver's two point guards, Ty Lawson and Andre Miller are both tough people to guard and what makes them so hard to guard is that they are both so different. Miller will likely try and post up on Lillard while Lawson will try to use his blow-by speed to get past him. Lillard has started to dig in more and more on the defensive end and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich commended him for working on that end. You won't hear that type of praise from Stotts, though, as the Trail Blazers team still must improve defensively as a unit. They are currently 24th in the league in defense, not good, but an improvement from the bottom-five defense they were playing earlier this year. They will need it against Denver who has a lot of weapons and one of the league's seven best offenses.
        
    •    Injuries continue to be a problem. Most importantly, LaMarcus Aldridge is out. He hurt his ankle in the final moments of Hornets win on Sunday. He is still in a boot but off crutches. If Aldridge doesn't go, we will likely see a variety of different line-ups. Luke Babbitt may get more time at power forward, as well as JJ Hickson. The Aldridge injury will also open up playing time for Jared Jeffries, Meyers Leonard and perhaps Joel Freeland (torn ligament in right index finger) if he can go. The Trail Blazers will need their big men to help keep the Nuggets off the glass. Hickson has been one of the best in the league but the Nuggets rebound well as a team and Hickson alone won't be enough to keep them off the glass. The Nuggets are the best offensive rebounding team in the league, led by Kenneth Faried. It's not just their bigs who can board as Danilo Gallinari and Andre Iguodala, two wing players, are third and fourth on the team in rebounds per game. Stotts has not yet made a decision on who will start in Aldridge's place. Wesley Matthews, who started the previous game but only went three and a half minutes is questionable for tonight's match-up.
        
    •    Denver will want to push the pace. They currently play at the fifth fastest pace in the league. The Trail Blazers do not play at a very high pace but like to run when given the opportunity. Against Denver, they have to make more of a conscious effort to get back on defense. After playing the Hornets, a team that plays at the slowest pace in the NBA, hopefully the adjustment won't take long. Portland's struggles in transition defense have been well documented (28th in the NBA in points per possession according to Synergy Sports) and they will have to really focus on getting back against a fast-paced team. The Nuggets have the second highest percentage of possessions considered "transition" of any team in the NBA according to Synergy. Portland must be ready to run.

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