I had to listen to most of this one on the radio, so excuse this recap for being fairly bad and shorter than usual. Long story short, Denver puts together a composed defensive effort and unleashes their dormant offensive attack in the second half to walk over Portland in familiar home court fashion. Like many teams playing the supremely difficult Denver back to back from Pacific-time zone cities, the Blazers fatigue was a factor. However the Nuggets weren’t able to simply run them out of gas early. The Nuggets patiently played to their strength inside and leaned on a combination of defense and size to break Portland.
Denver has always been physical with LaMarcus Aldridge and challenged him to put the ball on the floor and make strong moves. Without being able to watch the game closely as I would have liked, I can’t say how Denver defended him but he finished with a strong line of 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks. However he only took 14 shots and Denver seemed content to cover up second and third options while daring him to dominate inside and score 40 again. Aldridge is emerging as a premiere power forward after a career game against powerhouse San Antonio last night, but he still lacks the mindset to take over games and it was a good choice by Denver to dare Portland to try and go to him every time.
Shooting kept the Blazers in it early as Wes Matthews and Nic Batum started off accurate from deep. The Nuggets stayed calm and continued to clamp down inside and control the boards. Denver’s offense has cooled off considerably, but by limiting the amount of really bad defensive lapses the Nuggets seemed confident they could outlast Portland without need for a fast-break scoring barrage.
I caught the game at the start of the fourth quarter where things started to get out of control, Denver style. On offense the Nuggets worked inside out with more off-ball movement than we’ve seen in a long time. They went through Nene almost exclusively when he was in. When Portland’s long jumpers stopped falling, the Nuggets seized the opportunity to run and challenged Blazer bigs at the rim. On defense, rotations were crisp and the Nuggets got back in transition forcing Portland to work slow. The real story of the game was the bullying of Portland inside, where the Nuggets outscored them 42-26 in the paint and outrebounded them 48-33.
Denver had really been struggling just to manage acceptable NBA-level defense. On their previous five game road trip they gave up an average of over 107 points despite facing some of the worst offenses in the league. After failing to execute even simple team concepts on defense, they were allowing small breakdowns to snowball and throw kind of scheme or communication out the window. So while it’s not surprising Denver got back on track by beating a tired opponent at home, it is encouraging the win came with a recognition and effort to correct Denver’s lackadaisical and inconsistent interior D.
Additional Game 49 Nuggets