Nuggets are just another test, McMillan says

TUALATIN, Ore. — Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said it was a test — an opportunity to gauge how strong a rejuvenated Portland team truly is as it enters the final stretch of the regular season.

But McMillan was hesitant to put any extra weight on tonight’s road game against the Denver Nuggets, despite the fact that Denver sits in first place in the Northwest Division, five games ahead of the Blazers. And despite the fact Portland’s budding rivalry with the Nuggets has blossomed into one of the Blazers’ premier
must-see matchups.

To McMillan, every game is big — he does not understand playing up for one contest and down for another. And a surging Denver team excelling at inside-out basketball and led by All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups is just another test of Portland’s mettle.

“It’ll be a good game for us to get,” said McMillan, following a Saturday morning practice at the team’s workout facility. “We’ve won some games and this is one of the top teams in the (Western Conference). It’ll be good for our confidence if we can get this game.”

To counter Anthony, who ranks third in the NBA in average points (28.7), Portland will primarily rely on the long arms, quick feet and aggressive approach of small forward Nicolas Batum. But McMillan cautioned that holding Anthony at bay will be not a solo effort. The Blazers will alternate double teams with a variety of different looks in the attempt to limit Denver’s star forward, who poured in 73 points during the Nuggets’ two victories over Portland this season.

“Carmelo is having a great year and Nic hasn’t seen him since preseason, as far as guarding him,” McMillan said. “It won’t just be Nic. It’ll be all five guys on the floor, trying to disrupt him, deny him and get the ball out of his hands. But one guy is not going to stop Carmelo.”

Blazers starting point guard Andre Miller said he holds a great deal of respect for the Nuggets. Miller stated that Denver’s wide array of talent gives the team a multitude of strong, interchangeable pieces that make the Nuggets hard to guard and harder to predict.

“They’re one of the top three teams in the West, and one of the top five teams in the league,” Miller said. “They know how to play well off each other and they’ve got good leadership over there.”

Trail Blazers center Marcus Camby said he is uncertain whether he will play against the Nuggets. Camby, who is recovering from a left ankle sprain, did not practice Saturday. He said the pain from his injury is worse than when he sprained his right ankle Feb. 23 against New Jersey. Camby injured his left ankle Friday during practice. While attempting to pass a ball out of bounds, his foot slipped beneath a standard that supports a basketball goal. “It was freakish,” Camby said. McMillan stated that he will consult with the team’s doctors and trainers before making a decision about Camby’s status. … Denver forward Kenyon Martin will not play tonight, the Nuggets said. A magnetic resonance imaging exam on Martin’s injured left knee is being reviewed, and he is expected to meet with doctors Monday.

Today’s Game
Blazers vs. Nuggets, 7:30 p.m. at Pepsi Center
TV: ESPN (35)
Radio: 95.5 FM
Probable Starters
Nuggets (41-21)
G Chauncey Billups 6-3 20.0
G Arron Afflalo 6-5 8.9
F Joey Graham 6-7 4.2
F Carmelo Anthony 6-8 28.7
C Nene 6-11 13.9
Blazers (37-27)
Position/player Ht. Pts.
G Andre Miller 6-2 13.5
G Brandon Roy 6-6 22.1
F Nicolas Batum 6-8 9.8
F LaMarcus Aldridge 6-11 17.5
C Marcus Camby 6-11 3.3

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