Blazers 86, Nuggets 83…Denver falls to shorthanded Portland

With 8:50 to go in the fourth quarter, Carmelo Anthony picked up his fifth foul and was forced to the bench. With 3:08 left, Portland’s Nicholas Batum drew a charge on Melo to foul him out of the game. Denver scored 12 points in the fourth quarter on 3-of-13 shooting.

That pretty much tells you how this one turned out.

The Nuggets posted a combined 54 points in quarters one and three, while only scoring a dismal 29 points in periods two and four. The story of Denver’s season encapsulated in 48 minutes at the Rose Garden on Thursday night.

In a slow-paced game which clearly suited Portland’s style of play more than Denver’s featured two very different tales of how this game would turn out. Denver’s shot selection, aggressiveness of taking the ball to the basket and defensive intensity was night and day in those two halves of the game. The whole game was one of runs, with Denver blowing multiple double-digit leads and Portland feeding off their electric crowd to pull this one out. Portland was without All-Star guard Brandon Roy whose knees are giving Blazers’ fans nightmares of Sam Bowie and now Greg Oden, who will miss the entire season with another microfracture surgery on his bad knee.

Portland coach Nate McMillan only went with an eight-man rotation, and all of his starters played at least 36 minutes (that distinction would go to Marcus Camby), so you’d think Denver could take advantage with a somewhat deeper bench and a clear advantage in the backcourt (on paper). Lets take a look at some postgame thoughts in bullet form:

  • Aaron Afflalo and Gary Forbes switched roles last night; Afflalo was the unsung hero for Denver, bouncing back from some subpar outings with a 16-point, 11-rebound game and knocking down four of his eight three-point attempts. Forbes meanwhile moved into the doghouse with only 4 points on 2-of-7 shooting, throwing up some unnecessary and contested shots that took Denver out of their offensive flow. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come for the rookie, who has been a saving grace for Karl’s bench.
  • Lawson was inserted into the lineup when Melo fouled out, and was too unselfish with the basketball when he had it. The guy gets into the paint at will it seems and needs to start thinking of taking his own shot more (and drawing fouls, which he’s great at doing, absorbing the contact and still getting the shot over bigs twice his size) instead of dishing to Nene or Shelden, who continue to look clumsy with the ball at the basket.
  • I love Wesley Matthews. Absolutely love him. Many experts balked at the five-year, $34 million contract GM Rich Cho gave him, but he is proving to be worth every penny while filling the void of Roy (I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it!). After dropping a 30-spot in Memphis on Tuesday, Matthews responded with a 20 and 10 game on Denver, flying in for some boards over Denver’s bigs and hitting some big shots to keep Portland in the game when Denver was trying to extend their lead. Keep an eye on this kid, he may be the reason Portland stays a contender if Roy doesn’t return to full health.
  • Denver cannot shoot 38% on the road and hope to grab a playoff spot come March. Even when K-Mart and Birdman return, if the team is taking this many jump shots throughout the year they will struggle offensively, especially against the likes of San Antonio, New Orleans and Los Angeles, three solid defensive teams who are (not coincidentally) atop the Western Conference standings.
  • When will there be another J.R. Swish sighting? Will J.R. be traded sooner than originally thought? If he continues to ride the pine, whether it be for on-the-court (shooting poorly and continuing to play NO defense) or off-the-court (showing up late to team shootarounds is the latest infraction) issues, you’ve got to think he will demand a change of scenery. It could benefit Denver to turn him into some frontcourt depth, but who out there could the Nuggets get? (Marreese Speights (PHI)? Carl Landry (SAC)? Jeff Foster (IND)? Would any of those teams make a deal at this point?) It will be interesting to see how this saga plays out.

Next up for Denver is the Nets on Saturday night back at The Can. New Jersey is playing without Troy Murphy who is still suffering from a foot injury. The rookie Derrick Favors (rumored to be coming to Denver in that four-team trade before the season) and Kris Humphries should pose no threat to Denver’s frontcourt, but you never know what kind of production Denver’s bigs will give you. Brook Lopez is a double-double threat, Anthony Morrow can shoot the lights out and Travis Outlaw has big-time potential, but if Denver doesn’t win by 15+ I will be shocked and disappointed. Plus Carmelo Anthony has another chance to audition for his possible next destination, right? (too soon? sorry guys.) After dropping 120 points on the Knicks earlier this week, expect a similar high-point total in this one. A loss would drop Denver below .500 for the first time this season; I don’t know about you but with all the speculation and rumors surrounding this team, with this level of competition out West, that does not bode well for support or confidence in Nuggetland anytime soon.

  • Nick Ruland

    Based on the ‘end of the era’ post, Jeremy, shouldn’t we be surprised Denver showed up at all in Portland?

    • Jeremy

      I am not surprised by the Nuggets performance in Portland at all Nick, as I pointed out in that post, they are absolutely playing hard. However, playing hard is not enough. The fact they ended up losing a close game to an inferior opponent only cements my belief in what I wrote even more. Something is missing and I believe it is not a tangible on the court X’s and O’s issue. It is something deeper.