Game Preview: What to Watch for in the Nuggets Game Against Portland

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

With less than half season left, Nuggets coach Michael Malone has been spending a lot of time trying to solve a problem he had little-to-no thought would be an issue at this point.

Offense.

The Nuggets had arguably the best offense in the NBA for the final three months of last season. Then, in the offseason, enter prized free agent Paul Millsap. Everyone knew there would be some growing pains with a new, dominant player. And yet, Nuggets were breezing their way through those when Millsap went down with a wrist injury in November that has kept him out for many weeks since. Still, the Nuggets managed without him. Even flourished for a while.

But now, as they get set to face Portland on Monday night in the second of a five-game home stand, Malone is most worried about the offense.

“In (the) last 11 games, our defense has been solid – 16th in the NBA – but surprisingly, or not surprisingly if you’ve been watching us, our offensive efficiency in the last 11 games is 25th,” Malone said. “I am calling way more play calls than I did in my first two years. We’ve gotten away from just playing the game. When you play the game you’re hard to guard. Because it’s not a play call where they can just take it away.

“Teams didn’t know what the (heck) we were doing last year. We just played, we played with great pace – we’re playing really slow right now. We used to run – we’re not running as much. We used to cut – we’re not cutting as much. We’re standing. I want to get back to being a team that’s hard to guard, that runs that plays with pace and kind of get back to the offensive identity that we had last year. If we can do that while maintaining solid defense, I think that’s our best bet of being a competitive basketball team.”

Today’s game against Portland is the third in the series this season, and the first between the two in Denver. They have split the first two. So, what do the Nuggets need to do in order to come out with a victory? Start with these things…

Contain Damian Lillard: This is always easier said than done. Lillard was not in the Blazers’ lineup when the Nuggets beat them in Portland on Dec. 22. But Lillard was in the lineup on Nov. 13, in the first meeting, and the Nuggets held him to 15 points on 4-of-14 shooting and forced four turnovers. A lot of that stemmed on the Nuggets not letting Lillard get to the rim. They turned him into a jump shooter – and even though he’s a good one, Lillard missed a lot of them that night.

Keep pressure on Jusuf Nurkić: The Nuggets have defended Portland center Jusuf Nurkić well in the last couple of meetings, and the key is making him see bodies as he rolls to the rim in pick-and-roll situations and pushing him off the block when he’s trying to post up. Nurkić, however has been effective in his last five games with averages of 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. He’s shooting nearly 60 percent from the field in that span.

Mind the 3-point line: The Blazers have won three straight games, and have been on fire from the 3-point line. They’ve made 15 3-pointers per game in that span and are shooting 43.7 percent from the arc. The players to watch most? Damian Lillard (4.3 per game, 52 percent shooting), CJ McCollum (4.0 per game, 46.2 percent shooting), and Al-Farouq Aminu (3.0 per game, 42.9 percent).

INJURY REPORT: Paul Millsap (wrist) is out of tonight’s game. Kenneth Faried (ankle) is questionable for the game.

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.