Trail Blazers-Nuggets Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 14, 2013
The Denver Nuggets have struggled to put together full 48-minute efforts, but their strong fourth quarters are getting the job done. It's been more than five years since the Portland Trail Blazers did enough to leave Denver with a win. The Nuggets will try to extend their longest win streak of the season to six on Tuesday night when the cold-shooting Blazers go for just their third road victory in this matchup since 1999. The Nuggets (23-16) have trailed by at least 10 in each of their last three games, yet they continue to win with clutch play in the final period. They've outscored their opponents by an average of 9.8 in the fourth quarter since their last defeat. Denver outscored Golden State 37-18 in the final 12 minutes of Sunday's 116-105 victory to improve to 14-2 at home. "We played to our strength in the fourth quarter and turned up the defense," coach George Karl told the Nuggets' official website. "I'd like to see our defense start a little bit earlier than that, but I'll take the wins." The Nuggets, who last won six straight Jan. 17-27, will go for an eighth consecutive home win over Portland (20-17) and 23rd in its last 25 visits. The Blazers, losers of two straight following a 12-3 stretch, could find it difficult to win in Denver for the first time since Dec. 16, 2007, if they don't break their string of three consecutive games shooting 38.0 percent or worse. Outside of LaMarcus Aldridge, who hit 15 of 26 attempts and scored a season-best 33, the Blazers shot 26.7 percent (16 of 60) in Sunday's 87-83 home loss to Oklahoma City. "Shooting percentages usually even themselves out but I'll give credit to the defense in the last three games (against Miami, Golden State and the Thunder)," coach Terry Stotts told the Trail Blazers' official website after the team's 9-0 run in Portland ended. Denver could be another tough matchup as it's among the NBA leaders in field goal defense at 43.4 percent. The visiting Nuggets held Portland to 35.9 percent from the field Dec. 20, but they lost 101-93 after missing all 22 3-point attempts to set a league record for most attempts without a make. The Nuggets might struggle to approach the 74 points in the paint they scored in that game as Aldridge sat out with an ankle injury, but they could still enjoy a big edge down low. Denver leads the NBA with 46.4 rebounds and 55.9 points in the paint per game, while Portland is averaging 41.7 and 35.6. There's really no comparison between these Northwest Division foes when it comes to bench production. Sparked by the return of Wilson Chandler, who scored 14 points in his first game since Nov. 12, the Nuggets' reserves outscored the Warriors' bench 48-19 on Sunday. Denver's backups are averaging 38.4 points. "It helps knowing that come playoff time, we have depth and guys who can step up, especially when somebody has a bad night," forward Kenneth Faried said. The Blazers don't enjoy that depth behind Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, J.J. Hickson, Wesley Matthews and rookie Damian Lillard, with their bench average a league-worst 16.9 points. That unit was outscored 48-27 by Denver's reserves last month.
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