Trail Blazers Vs. Nuggets Preview
March 1, 2014
By JEFF BARTL
The Portland Trail Blazers have continued to flourish despite the absence of multiple rotation players, including leading scorer and rebounder LaMarcus Aldridge.
The injury bug also has hit the Denver Nuggets, but they haven't been nearly as successful with Ty Lawson still nursing a fractured left rib.
Aldridge could return Saturday night as Portland seeks a fifth straight victory while looking to hand visiting Denver a fifth consecutive defeat.
The Blazers (40-18) continued their run with a 124-80 blowout of Brooklyn on Wednesday to open a four-game homestand. Their current tear has been all the more impressive given that they've played the last five games without Aldridge, who is averaging career bests of 23.9 points and 11.4 rebounds.
Aldridge has been sidelined with a left groin strain, but he participated in a full practice Thursday and said he will make a decision Saturday morning about facing the Nuggets.
Meyers Leonard sat out against the Nets with a right ankle sprain, and his status is uncertain. Joel Freeland has missed the last six with a right knee sprain, and Thomas Robinson didn't practice due to a left knee injury suffered in Tuesday's 100-95 win over Denver.
Coach Terry Stotts sat his starters for the entire fourth quarter against Brooklyn, as reserves Mo Williams and Will Barton scored 21 and a season-high 20, respectively.
"You never know what's going to happen at this point in the season," starting guard Wesley Matthews said. "For people to already have confidence that they can play, and for us to be able to play with a bunch of different lineups that we haven't done even in practice before - and win - is a good thing."
Damian Lillard scored a game-high 31 points as Portland won a third straight meeting with Denver earlier in the week. Nuggets coach Brian Shaw expressed some relief before that contest that he wouldn't have to deal with Aldridge, who scored a career-high 44 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in Portland's 110-105 win over Denver on Jan. 23.
The Nuggets may not be as fortunate this time around, though, as they look to end their losing streak despite likely not having Lawson for a ninth straight contest. Wilson Chandler's status also is unclear after he sat out Thursday's 112-89 loss to Brooklyn with a right knee strain.
The Nuggets (25-32) have dropped nine of 10 and went winless on a three-game homestand. They've dropped five of six on the road.
"I think I can speak for everybody in the locker room when I say to be part of something like (Thursday), it's embarrassing," said forward J.J. Hickson, who scored 14 points off the bench. "We know exactly what we have to do to win and we're just not doing it."
Shaw is hoping the Nuggets draw some inspiration from the Nets, who were routed by the Blazers the night before blowing out Denver.
"They lost by 44 in Portland and came back and turned it around, so we're in that situation now where we got embarrassed," Shaw said. "We got a game coming up on Saturday in Portland and we're going to have to try to do the same thing."
Aldridge has averaging 30.3 points over his last four against the Nuggets, who have dropped seven of the past eight road meetings in this series.