Preview: Denver Nuggets end road trip against Portland Trail Blazers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyroNBA

Every team faces challenges throughout the course of an NBA regular season. From cold-shooting stretches and untimely injuries to scheduling quirks and bad luck, teams constantly have to push through adversity.

For the Denver Nuggets, that adversity has arrived around the start of the second month of the season. Denver (9-8) has lost four games in a row, the latter two coming without reigning MVP Nikola Jokić, who continues to recover from a right wrist sprain. During this stretch, the Nuggets have had to face a slew of playoff contenders, which continues Tuesday night when they take on the Portland Trail Blazers.

Portland (9-8) has won three in a row following a 124-95 loss to the Nuggets on Nov. 14 as the Trail Blazers offense continues to thrive. Over the past two weeks, Portland ranks fourth in offensive rating, which helps to overcome some struggles on the other end of the floor (Trail Blazers rank 28th in defensive rating during this stretch).

INJURY REPORT:

JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT KNEE INJURY RECOVERY. OUT.

MICHAEL PORTER JR. – LOW BACK PAIN. OUT.

ZEKE NNAJI – RIGHT ANKLE SPRAIN. OUT.

BONES HYLAND – RIGHT ANKLE SPRAIN. OUT.

NIKOLA JOKIC – RIGHT WRIST SPRAIN. QUESTIONABLE.

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

The battle beyond the arc

These two teams have slightly different approaches on the offensive end. Portland almost exclusively focuses on taking shots at the rim or from beyond the arc, while Denver’s shot distribution is more even across all areas of the floor.

However, Tuesday’s game presents a compelling matchup when it comes to the battle beyond the arc. Portland ranks sixth in its frequency of shot attempts coming from downtown (40.9 percent) and fifth in percentage (37.1 percent). Denver ranks 17th and 28th respectively, in those aspects of 3-point shooting.

However, Portland’s defense has been vulnerable this season defending on the perimeter, which has resulted in teams shooting 39.1 percent against them, the third-highest percentage in the league. In the first meeting between the two teams only a week ago, Denver shot 19-of-40 (47.5 percent) from deep, a key factor in the comfortable victory.

Defending inside the paint

As mentioned above, if the Trail Blazers aren’t taking a 3-pointer, the shot is most likely coming around the basket. 35.2 percent of Portland’s shot attempts this season have come within four feet of the rim, the fourth-highest frequency in the league.

Although the Trail Blazers haven’t finished at an elite clip on those shots (63.7 percent, right around league average), it’s still imperative that Denver limits the number of attempts coming inside the paint for Portland. The Nuggets have been effective in limiting shot attempts around the rim, but teams have been able to convert on 68.9 percent of those attempts, the second-highest percentage in the league.

Who will step up for Denver?

Regardless of whether or not Jokić is able to go in Tuesday’s contest, the Nuggets will need key contributions throughout the rotation.

In recent games, Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green have posted new season highs in scoring, while others have had to step up and adjust to different roles as the rotation has shifted. In their Nov. 14 victory over Portland, Denver received 63 points off the bench, a season-high by a wide margin.

That kind of bench production will be needed Tuesday night in Portland, along with strong performances from a starting unit that has been tweaked and adjusted consistently throughout the early stages of the season.

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