Trying to keep up with a red-hot Memphis Grizzlies squad for the fourth seed in the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets head to the Rose Garden to face the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.
With seven-straight victories, the Grizzlies appear to be figuring things out without Rudy Gay, which has been bad news for Denver. Both Memphis and Denver teams are battling for the four seed in the conference, which is the final seed that gets homecourt advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
For a team like Denver that's played so much better at home this year, getting that four seed is likely important for their chances of reaching the second round of the playoffs.
Since entering 2013 just two games above .500, the Nuggets have found their form on the court as everyone has finally gotten healthy. Though Danilo Gallinari has dealt with a thigh injury in recent days which may keep him out Wednesday, the Nuggets have posted a 19-7 record since the beginning of January, one of the best records in the league.
That's bad news for a Portland team that badly needs a victory at home to keep its own playoff hopes alive. With the Houston Rockets continuing to play well, the Blazers have fallen four games back for the eighth seed after a rough stretch on the road.
After starting the new year hot with five wins in six games, Portland has fallen off. Looking like an intriguing playoff match-up in early January after a win over the Miami Heat improved their record to 20-15, the Blazers have dropped 15 of their past 21 games.
Still, the Blazers have been a much tougher match-up at home this season, as they showed the Boston Celtics in a 92-86 win on Sunday. Considering that the Nuggets have been a shell of themselves away from the Pepsi Center this season, posting a 12-19 record on the road, this is a game Portland is presumably hoping to win.
The late game on national television, coverage on ESPN starts at 10:30 p.m. ET.
Can Denver be stopped in the paint?
Part of why the Nuggets have been so good is their ability to score easy baskets. When it comes to points in the paint, "The distance between them and #2 is greater than the distance between #2 and #29. That's incomprehensible," the folks at Blazers Edge, SB Nation's Trail Blazers blog, point out.
What does that mean for Portland? Even playing at home, against a team that has typically struggled away from its own court, this game probably comes down to whether LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson can protect the basket.
The Nuggets don't have a true star player, but they attack you with athletic slashers and make it difficult to play aggressive defense because they also shoot so many three-pointers. It frees up lanes for the likes of Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried, players that are difficult to stop when given space.
Considering that Portland's big man rotation essentially consists of Aldridge, Hickson, a bit of Meyers Leonard and a dash of Joel Freeland, it will be interesting to see if the Blazers can stop this Nuggets offense.
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