Preview: Denver Nuggets look to extend winning streak vs. Trail Blazers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Following one of the most stressful and exciting victories of the season, the Denver Nuggets now head west for a two-game road trip against some familiar faces.

A 139-137 double-overtime victory over the Memphis Grizzlies extended Denver’s winning streak to three games and was fueled by another dominant performance from Nikola Jokić. The Serbian big man scored 47 points to go along with 15 rebounds and eight assists, as Denver’s MVP candidate scored several clutch baskets throughout the overtime periods. Will Barton III (season-high 28 points) and Michael Porter Jr. (21 points) also chipped in with key contributions.

MORE: Takeaways from win over Grizzlies

Denver (37-20) now heads to Portland to take on a struggling Trail Blazers squad Wednesday night.

Portland is 2-5 over the last two weeks, with defense continuing to be a major issue for Terry Stotts’ squad. The Trail Blazers have the 29th-ranked defense in the league, per Cleaning the Glass, which when coupled with key injuries throughout the season, has held Portland back despite owning the fifth-highest offensive rating in the league.

Denver won the first meeting between these two teams 111-106 back on Feb. 23.

Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, Will Barton III, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić

TUNE-IN: 8 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 92.5FM

Key matchup: Will Barton III vs. C.J. McCollum

With Damian Lillard missing Portland’s last three games, McCollum has had to assume a primary role in the offense, which certainly isn’t a bad thing for a player averaging a career-high 23.4 points per game and 4.7 assists per game this season on 39.6 percent 3-point shooting.

Although his scoring production has dipped in the past 10 games (21.5 points per game), McCollum must be a key focus for Denver’s defense Wednesday night, with Barton III likely receiving a majority of the opportunities to match up against Portland’s sweet-shooting guard.

Barton III is coming off one of his best games of the season, scoring a season-high 28 points to go along with seven assists, and six rebounds against Memphis. Barton III also knocked down five 3-pointers, including a triple that ultimately sent the game to overtime.

With Jamal Murray out, Denver will rely even more on Barton III’s scoring and playmaking, especially as the Nuggets matchup with Portland’s elite offense Wednesday night.

Defend the 3-point line

When it comes to defending Portland’s offense, focusing on the 3-point line is a key ingredient for success. 43 percent of the Trail Blazers’ shot attempts this season have come from beyond the arc, which is the second-highest frequency in the league and well over the league average of 36.2 percent.

Meanwhile, Portland ranks in the bottom 10 in the frequency of shot attempts coming at the rim and from the mid-range, thus making the 3-point line a key priority for the Trail Blazers.

What makes Portland so dangerous in this regard is that it’s not just the number of attempts that can strike fear in a defense, as the Trail Blazers have hit 38.3 percent from beyond the arc this season, which is tied for eighth in the league this season.

Although teams haven’t hit an elite percentage of their 3-point attempts against Denver (37 percent, which ranks 10th in the league), the Nuggets have been vulnerable when it relates to giving up 3-point attempts, as they rank 23rd in their opponent’s frequency of 3-point attempts.

Attack the basket on offense

As mentioned earlier, Portland has struggled mightily on the defensive end this season. Several factors have gone into those struggles, but a key area the Nuggets can look to exploit is around the rim.

Although Denver ranks just 22nd in the frequency of shot attempts coming around the rim this season, the Nuggets have shot 67.8 percent from within four feet of the basket, which ranks third in the league.

Meanwhile, Portland has allowed 36.1 percent of opponent shot attempts to come within four feet of the rim this season, which places them 27th in the league. Furthermore, teams have been able to finish at an above-average 65.1 percent clip on those attempts, which ranks Portland 22nd in the league.

If Denver can get to the basket early and often, it will open up the floor for 3-point shooters, which is a recipe for success on the offensive end of the floor Wednesday night.

Statistics as of April 19.

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