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

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Nuggets return to Portland with an opportunity to get back on track against an opponent – and in a venue – that has been difficult to solve. The Nuggets have dropped 15 of the last 17 games overall to the Blazers, but they arrive to the Moda Center today ready to get back into the win column.

They’ll find a Blazers team that is playing without injured star Damian Lillard. Still, Nuggets coach Michael Malone remains concerned.

“Last time we played here, Damian Lillard didn’t hurt us,” Malone said. “Their bench kicked our (butts). Evan Turner had 14 points, Noah Vonleh had eight points and 10 rebounds, (Shabazz) Napier had eight points. Their bench group had 40-some odd points and shot like 60-plus from the field.

“So, obviously, Lillard is a great player. I’m not undermining the fact that he is a big loss. But we can’t look at it like ‘Oh, he’s not playing, we’re good.’ Because last time in this building, it was their bench players."

The Nuggets are looking to snap a two-game losing streak overall. This is the first of a back-to-back that finishes on Saturday at Golden State.

What do the Nuggets need to do to have a chance to win? Start with these things…

Get the offense moving: In the first meeting between the teams, the Nuggets had just 13 assists on 30 made shots. Portland’s defense had done a solid job of slowing down the ball movement and player movement, forcing the Nuggets into a ton of isolation circumstances. Keeping the ball moving against one of the NBA’s better defenses is key – and keeping up that execution when the Moda Center crowd is rocking is important. The Nuggets are at their best when the ball is moving from side-to-side and there are a lot of paint touches.

Close in on C.J. McCollum: This is easier written than executed. McCollum is as potent and crafty a scorer as there is in the league. And now, with Damian Lillard out due to injury, he’ll have the scoring stage all to himself. Last season, Portland was 2-3 in games Lillard did not play but McCollum did. And McCollum averaged 31.2 points on 49 percent from the field and 38 percent from the 3-point line in those contests. He also dished out 4.6 assists and grabbed 4.2 rebounds per game. So, he’ll be a handful. The Nuggets will have to box him in on pick-and-roll situations, and maybe force the ball out of his hands. Otherwise, he’s as good player as there is in those actions.

Push Nurkic beyond five feet: The 7-foot, 280-pound center is nearly automatic when he catches the ball on the block or with a foot in the paint; he’s making 55.2 percent of his shots in that range. But if Nuggets defenders do their work early, push him beyond the block and force Nurkic to take longer, tougher shots, his percentages go down. From five feet, all the way out to 20 feet, Nurkic has made just 46-of-128 shots (35.9 percent) this season. The one caveat, however, is Nurkic has been good in jump shots from 20-24 feet. He’s made 43 percent of those this season. But by and large, getting Nurkic away from the basket and outside of his comfort zone will help the Nuggets reduce his scoring.

INJURY REPORT: Guards Gary Harris (elbow) and Emmanuel Mudiay (ankle) are questionable for the game. Malone said he expects Harris to play, but not Mudiay.

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