Live from the Moda Center as the Portland Trail Blazers host the Denver Nuggets.
It’s the red hot and rolling week, featuring the undermanned and undersized Blazers. Trotting out a 6'9" backup center last game? No problem for Portland, who have won four straight including an epic dismantling of the Brooklyn Nets. In the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge, bench players like Thomas Robinson and Will Barton have provided huge sparks, and Portland has regained a little of the swagger they lost during an early February swoon.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, are a trainwreck. They’ve won once in their last ten games, that lone victory coming against the worst team in the league. They are in a tailspin, and the only thing that will stop the carnage is the end of the regular season. Things have gotten so bad, first-year coach Brian Shaw has resorted to ethering his team in the media. Nuggets fans in the mile high city are going to need to spend the rest of the year high as a mile to survive this ugliness.
Portland hasn’t won all four games in a season series against the Nuggets since the ‘96-97 season. They’ve won the first three meetings so far, and a win tonight would seal it. The only thing standing in their way is...JJ Hickson?! Oh, yeah, the Blazers have this one on lock.
LaMarcus Aldridge is back! It was just announced that he'll be starting tonight's game, finally returning from the groin injury that kept him on the shelf for over a week. Whew. Say goodbye to Victor Claver as the backup center.
The numbers are skewed a bit by the blowout against the Nets, but Portland has crept their way into the top twenty in defensive efficiency. It’s still not great, but the closer they can get that number to league average, the better the chance they’ll have a making some noise come playoff time.
It's easy to joke about JJ Hickson and his utter lack of defense—seriously, it's the worst—but he did some damage against Portland in the last meeting between these two. Portland lost Thomas Robinson in that game, their only healthy big man besides Robin Lopez, and Denver was able to turn a blowout into a competitive contest by crashing the boards with reckless abandon. Hickson ended up with a career-high 25 rebounds, 15 of those coming on the offensive glass. If Aldridge does nothing else, he'll at least be able to boxout.
Meyers Leonard is back tonight, too! Don't get me wrong: Meyers Leonard is not good at the sport of basketball. But, boy, he sure is tall!
The Blazers have a new Game of Thrones inspired "Playoffs Are Coming" shirt, and now all I want to do is try and figure out which players are which characters. LaMarcus Aldridge as Robb Stark? Damian Lillard as Jon Snow?
11:31 - Well, Aldridge is already making an impact, grabbing a defensive rebound on the first Denver miss of the game, then setting a nice screen the freed Lillard up to take it right to the hole. 2-0 Blazers.
10:18 - And Aldridge has his first basket of the night, a patented turnaround in the lane. Easy living. It's like he never left. 4-2 Blazers.
7:50 - Randy Foye has two early three-pointers for Denver. He hit four threes in his last game in the Rose Garden—still holding a draft day grudge against the Blazers?—but he'll need about seventeen threes to give Denver a chance. 10-8 Nuggets.
6:19 - Aldridge hasn't missed a beat. He just made Timofey Mozgoz look like he was on skates in the post, using his pivot foot and a couple of fake spins to get a wide open look near the free throw line. 12-10 Blazers.
4:40 - Aaron Brooks just missed a three-pointer by about six feet, hardly even drawing backboard. Aaron Brooks is coming out of the game. 16-10 Blazers.
3:54 - Back to back dunks! First Lillard took a nice angle off a screen and had a wide open lane to the hoop, then Batum picked up a steal and had a breakaway slam. Things already seem like they are unravelling for the Nuggets. 20-12 Blazers.
3:13 - Woah, passing. Mo Williams tossed a no look pass to a cutting Batum, who dished a touch pass to Meyers Leonard as he was crashing to the basket. Meyers, just in the game, had the third Blazers dunk in a row. 22-12 Blazers.
1:52 - If Meyers Leonard bites on another JJ Hickson pump fake, the refs should just go ahead and call this one. Nobody should have to watch such ugly basketball. 26-19 Blazers.
0:48 - The first of what should be infinity baskets for Will Barton tonight. C'mon, Will, give the people what they want! 30-22 Blazers.
0:00 - Well, Meyers Leonard can still dunk. Remember what I told you guys about him being tall? He has more fouls than rebounds, but that's to be expected. 32-24 Blazers.
10:23 - JJ Hickson just got creamed by Meyers Leonard underneath the basket. It was so bad you could hear the impact from up here. Immediately after the play it looked like Leonard might have been tossed for a flagrant foul. Nope. The call was an offensive foul on Hickson. Even on replay I have no idea how that call made sense. 35-24 Blazers.
8:27 - Give Aaron Brooks credit. He went right after a Robin Lopez dunk attempt to try and block it, even though he had little to no chance of succeeding. He stopped the dunk by clocking Robin's arm, but Lopez was able to pick up the two free throws. 39-30 Blazers.
6:21- That's two straight baskets for the Nuggets off of offensive rebounds. Apparently the Blazers still haven't learned the art of the boxout. 44-38 Blazers.
4:53 - Ten Blazers have played tonight, ten Blazers have scored tonight. I think that's a good ratio? 48-38 Blazers.
2:57 - Every time Portland starts to extend their lead, the Nuggets chip right back into it. To be fair, the Blazers appear to be playing at about 75% right now. Once they decide to put this one away, Denver won't stand a chance. Ah, to be a good team with an extra gear. 48-42 Blazers.
1:04 - Once again the Blazers got their lead up to double digits, and once again the Nuggets brought it close. Portland had their hands on a few loose balls, but some unlucky bounces led to Denver points, including an Evan Fournier three-pointer. 54-47 Blazers.
0:00 - The Blazers ran a successful hook and ladder play at the end of the quarter! A three-quarter length pass from Aldridge to Batum, then Nicolas dished it to a streaking Lillard for the easy layup. The Nuggets didn't end this quarter with the best execution, and that's an understatement. Portland is going to blow this open in the second half. 56-48 Blazers.
10:59 - We're a minute into this quarter and the Nuggets already have three team fouls. Portland already has a 20-9 free throw advantage, and it's about to get much, much worse. Keep attacking, Blazers. 58-48 Blazers.
8:58 - Portland lost points on an offensive interference call, turned it over on a 2-1 fast break, and the Nuggets hit a three on the other end. And still Portland has a healthy lead. 60-53 Blazers.
6:14 - After that Nicolas Batum three-pointer, the Blazers are now 2-14 from deep. And they have a nine point lead. This Nuggets team is awful. 67-58 Blazers.
6:09 - Aldridge with a tip-in! The groin looks to be totally fine. In fact, he looks well rested and healthy. I wonder if he had a "groin injury" instead of a groin injury, opting to take a few days of rest to get ready for the playoff push. 69-58 Blazers.
3:52 - Robin Lopez is leading all scorers with sixteen points. Gotta love that JJ Hickson offensive bump! 75-63 Blazers.
2:39 - The Nuggets had three fouls to Portland's zero a minute into this quarter. Portland is now in the penalty, while the Nuggets still only have three fouls. Ugh. So much for being aggressive. 77-68 Blazers.
1:06 - Like we always do about this time: it's the Nicolas Batum triple double watch. He's got nine points, twelve rebounds, and six assists. 82-71 Blazers.
0:00 - Mo Williams just pulled his best Lillard impersonation at the end of the quarter, dribbling the ball at the top of the key as time ticked off then launching and hitting a jumper before the buzzer sounded. The difference is Lillard would have made certain his feet were behind the line, while Mo had to settle for a loooong two. 84-73 Blazers.
10:27 - The Blazers are the one with early foul trouble this quarter, picking up three quick ones. Who knew that a lineup of Mo Williams, Will Barton, Dorell Wright, Victor Claver, and Meyers Leonard would both be prone to fouling and giving up leads? Stotts needs to get his starters back in sooner rather than later. 84-78 Blazers.
7:56 - Will Barton hitting corner threes is going to take his game to a whole new level. Please, Will, don't hurt 'em! 91-82 Blazers.
6:29 - Welp, the Blazers are in the penalty from here on out. Denver should be in line for some easy points. Oh, wait, it's JJ Hickson shooting free throws. Never mind. He missed both. 91-82 Blazers.
5:38 - Batum's fourteen rebounds are a new career high. He obviously got the boxout memo. 93-82 Blazers.
5:06 - A normal sequence for Mo Williams: throw the ball directly out of bounds with nobody around, pick up a stupid foul trying to guard a quicker player, hit a corner three. You take the good with the bad, and hope it's a night where you get more good. 96-84 Blazers.
4:03 - That last Lillard layup was one for the highlight package. He was on a 1-2 fastbreak, took a bunch of contact, and still managed to throw it up off the glass over two defenders as he was falling out of bounds. 100-89 Blazers.
2:48 - The Blazers had a 20-9 free throw advantage at the beginning of the second half. The Nuggets are now winning that department 27-22. 100-90 Blazers.
1:28 - Robin Lopez is still leading all scorers in this game. How is that even possible? 100-92 Blazers.
0:50 - Well, the Blazers never fully put the jets on, but this one hasn't felt even remotely in jeopardy. Portland has been playing sloppy and letting the Nuggets hang around—the close-ish score is more on Portland than it is anything the Nuggets are doing right. We're all over but the fouling. 100-94 Blazers.
FINAL: 102-96 Blazers. Aldrdige is back! Batum had a career high sixteen rebounds! Lopez both had a season high eighteen points and lead all scorers in the game! It sure wasn't pretty, but Portland now has five wins in a row. Oh, and they swept the season series with Denver. Everything is coming up Blazers.