Preview: Denver Nuggets conclude back-to-back with game against Trail Blazers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

For the first and only time in their seeding games schedule, the Denver Nuggets will have to deal with the circumstances of a back-to-back.

Following a 132-126 victory over the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday, Denver (45-23) will have a short turnaround before taking on a familiar foe in the Portland Trail Blazers Thursday evening. Michael Porter Jr. (30 points and a career-high 15 rebounds) and Nikola Jokić (25 points and 11 assists) led Denver’s offense once again in Wednesday’s win.

Portland (31-38) enters Thursday’s contest fresh off an impressive win over the Houston Rockets. The Trail Blazers are part of the group battling for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. As a result, each victory is crucial for Portland’s chances to be a part of the play-in game, should they finish in the eighth or ninth spot in the standings by the end of the seeding games schedule. The Trail Blazers are currently one game behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies.

Denver won each of the first three meetings between the two teams prior to the league’s hiatus.

Here are three storylines to watch for in Thursday’s contest.

Attacking the offensive glass is key for Denver

The Trail Blazers have struggled mightily on the defensive end this season. Ranking 27th in defensive rating according to Cleaning the Glass, Portland ranks near the bottom of the league in two key defensive areas: generating turnovers and finishing possessions with a defensive rebound.

For Denver, Portland’s struggles on the glass should be a welcomed sight. The Nuggets rank third in the league in offensive rebound percentage this season, grabbing an offensive rebound on 28 percent of their misses. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers rank 27th in opponent offensive rebound percentage, allowing their opponents to grab offensive rebounds on 27.9 percent of misses.

For Nikola Jokić, Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee, there should be plenty of opportunities to create second-chance opportunities for the offense, which can demoralize a defense and provide a boost for teammates.

Denver must defend the mid-range

Once again, the Nuggets find themselves in a matchup against a team that prefers to operate in the mid-range. Portland ranks 11th in the league in the frequency of shot attempts coming from the mid-range and an impressive fifth in field-goal percentage from that area of the floor (43.2 percent).

Having previously faced Oklahoma City and San Antonio, the Nuggets should be well prepared to defend Portland’s mid-range attack. Over the course of the season, Denver has ranked in the top 10 of both opponent frequency of shot attempts and opponent shooting percentage in the mid-range.

However, unlike Oklahoma City and San Antonio, Portland looks to get a healthy amount of 3-pointers up in their offensive attack and has thrived from beyond the arc. The Trail Blazers rank third in the league at 38.1 percent from deep this season, headlined by Damian Lillard’s 39.1 percent on over nine attempts per game.

Can the Nuggets continue to have success against Lillard?

Speaking of Lillard, the Nuggets have had plenty of success defending the star guard in recent matchups.

In three matchups this season, Lillard has averaged 22 points per game on 38.3 percent shooting from the floor, including 24 percent from beyond the arc. Those struggles have carried over from the 2018-19 season, where the five-time All-Star averaged 21.3 points per game on 37.1 percent shooting from the field and 28.6 percent from deep.

If Denver can continue to frustrate Lillard and get him out of a rhythm, it will force Portland’s other players to step up and lead its sixth-ranked offense. With former Nugget Jusuf Nurkić back healthy and playing a key role for the Trail Blazers, their offense is even more dynamic and difficult to guard down in Orlando.

Thursday’s game will tip at 6 p.m. MT and will air on Altitude TV (Radio: KKSE 92.5FM/950AM).

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