During the All-Star break when the Nuggets had a three and a half game lead these next two games against Portland and at Utah looked to be important, but not life or death type matchups. With the events that have transpired since then (the Nuggets slumping while the Blazers have surged and the Jazz have absolutely caught fire) the next two nights have taken on a much greater importance. However, it has not reached that status to George Karl who referred to it as “one game in a marathon (season)” in the Denver Post today.
The Nuggets have been in first place in the Northwest Division for most of the season. If they lose the next two games and Houston and New Orleans win their next games Denver will wake up on Saturday and fine themselves in third place in the division and seventh in the conference. Think about that. For all the praise and good press the Nuggets have received they are really teetering on the brink right now.
What is the solution? Desperation. The Nuggets showed us when the pressure was on against the Lakers that they can perform at a higher level. Intensity and focus on defense can overcome a multitude of issues. Against the Lakers the Nuggets shot 41.7% from the field and 14.3% from three point land, but they won by 11 points. They will have to play with desperation these next two games.
The Trail Blazers have a top quality offense. They are second in the NBA in offensive efficiency behind only the Lakers. They have incredibly talented offensive players in LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Fernandez, Travis Outlaw and of course Brandon Roy. What makes them even more dangerous is they play very unselfishly making them even more difficult to defend. What they do not have is a defense that can go into lock down mode and that is the difference between these two squads. Of course should the Nuggets come out tonight and go through the motions any defensive advantage will be completely negated and that is why it is important they play with desperation.
Portland comes into town having played a tough game at home against the Pacers and they were a Jarrett Jack three at the buzzer away from losing. The Nuggets should be fairly well rested and Melo should be very well rested.
Brandon Roy has yet to shoot well in Denver having a career field goal percentage of 37.8% on 28-74 shooting. Portland has only won once in five tries in Denver since Roy came to town. Earlier this season when the two teams met at the Pepsi Center Carmelo was sitting out to rest his sore elbow and the Nuggets won with defense. They held Roy to 3-11 shooting and no one else stepped up to fill the void. I wrote in my game recap that one of the keys to the Nuggets defensive effort that night was that they fought through screens with the bigs hedging to slow down the ball handler. We should be able to get a good indication of what type of defense the Nuggets will come out with tonight based on how they defend the pick and roll.
These next two games are going to be more about effort and heart. Denver can either lose their grip on the division or they can reestablish it.
Take this with you (new feature for a big game): With a great effort and win tonight Denver can put the Melo suspension behind them. With a loss it will threaten to hang over them for the foreseeable future.