|Slumping Nuggets look to bounce back vs. Blazers|
Less than two weeks ago, the Denver Nuggets were in a battle with the Los Angeles Lakers for early supremacy in the Western Conference. Now they're trying to get their swagger back after losing five of their past six games.
They are hoping a home game against a Northwest Division rival will serve as the spark they desperately need. The Nuggets, losers of three straight, host the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night in the second meeting of the season between the teams.
Denver won in Portland on opening night, getting a measure of revenge after the Trail Blazers won Game 7 of the conference semifinals on the Nuggets' home court in May.
Denver is going through its first true rough patch of the season after starting 13-3 but has a chance to get back on track in the next nine days with five home games against teams with losing records. It might be tougher if guard Jamal Murray, the team's leading scorer, will miss time due to a trunk injury sustained in the Nuggets' 97-92 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night.
Murray wound up with a contusion when he collided with 76ers guard Ben Simmons in the first quarter. Murray had an X-ray done during the game, which came back clean, and after the game coach Michael Malone said he didn't think the injury was too serious.
Though the team lists him as questionable for Thursday, Murray posted Wednesday on Instagram that he intends to Portland.
If Murray is forced to sit out, that would leave the Nuggets a little thinner at guard, making it tougher to stop the Blazers' talented backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Lillard scored 31 points and hit eight 3-pointers Tuesday in Portland's 115-87 rout of the New York Knicks. McCollum has played well against Denver, including a 37-point effort in Game 7 last spring to eliminate the Nuggets from the playoffs.
Thursday will also mark the return of Carmelo Anthony to a place where he started his career and played seven-plus seasons before being traded to New York in 2011. Anthony has helped stabilize a Portland frontcourt that has been hit hard by injury.
During the win over the Knicks, Portland may have found a new wrinkle to throw at the Nuggets on Thursday night. Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts used big men Hassan Whiteside and Skal Labissiere together instead of rotating their playing time, and Lillard was pleased with the results.
"We've struggled to rebound the ball, so having those two guys out there, if it can work, why not?" Lillard said . "Me, CJ and (Anthony), our minutes this year together have been positive for the team, so why not? He was just rolling it out there and seeing how it would go."
The duo could pose problems for a Denver team that has struggled to defend inside of late. Malone used forward Torrey Craig, a 6-foot-7 defensive stopper, on Tuesday, and the Sixers scored just 38 in the paint.
"Right now, the biggest thing for us is, can we guard the paint?" Malone said before the Tuesday loss. "Not just because we're coming off of 66 (inside points) that we allowed in Brooklyn. Last five games, by far the worst thing we're doing on defense is allowing 55 points a night in the paint."
--Field Level Media