Blazers Thin Up Front
The Trail Blazers (32-26 ATS, 34-23-1 O/U at sportsbooks) were the NBA's biggest surprise for the first six weeks or so of the season as Portland blazed out a 22-4 record. However, the team played just .500 ball over the next 28 games, a stretch that concluded with last Wednesday's home loss to San Antonio. That was Portland's third straight defeat at the time, all coming against West contenders in the Thunder, Clippers and Spurs.
Thanks to an easier schedule, Portland has since won four straight in beating the Jazz, Timberwolves, Nuggets and Nets. Wednesday's 124-80 win over visiting Brooklyn was Portland's biggest margin of victory this season and the Nets' biggest loss since 2003. Seven Blazers scored in double figures, led by Mo Williams' season-high 21 off the bench. Portland is 18-2 on the season when holding teams under 100 points.
Making it more impressive is how shorthanded the Blazers are in the frontcourt. All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, missed his fifth straight game with a groin injury. Backup center Joel Freeland, who gets around 14 minutes a night on average, missed his sixth straight game with sprained MCL and he might miss the rest of the regular season. Thomas Robinson missed the game with a left patella strain suffered Tuesday. Needless to say the Blazers played a small lineup most times against Brooklyn. Victor Claver, who barely plays when the roster is healthy, got 22 minutes against the Nets. He had 13 points as the Blazers bench had a season-high 68 points. Williams was the first bench player this season to lead the team in scoring.
M*A*S*H Unit In Denver
The Nuggets (23-34 ATS, 27-30 at sportsbooks) are in a free-fall and it's rather surprising the team didn't make a bigger move before the trade deadline other than sending backup point guard Andre Miller to Washington. Denver lost 112-89 to those Nets on Thursday, a whopping 67-point turnaround for Brooklyn in 24 hours. It was Denver's fourth straight loss overall -- it has allowed at least 100 points in all four and not topped 95 -- and ninth in the past 10. The only victory in that run: against NBA-worst Milwaukee.
Denver had a season-low eight points while shooting 3 of 18 from the field in the first quarter against Brooklyn and was down by as much as 31 in the second quarter. Point guard Ty Lawson, the only player the team probably wouldn't trade, missed his eighth straight game with a fractured rib. Forward Wilson Chandler sat out with a sore knee. Point guard Nate Robinson, forward Danilo Gallinari and center JaVale McGee are all done for the season. Thus Denver's starting lineup Thursday wasn't very impressive: Evan Fournier, Randy Foye, Aaron Brooks, Timofey Mozgov and Kenneth Faried. The latter is the only legit NBA starter of the five, although Foye has averaged 20.5 points in the past four. Someone has to score.
Denver should have two high picks in the 2014 draft because it also holds the Knicks' as the final piece of the Carmelo Anthony trade. However, the Nuggets have to send the lesser of those two picks to Orlando.
Portland goes for the four-game season sweep. The first meeting was way back on Nov. 1 and the Blazers won 113-98 in Denver as a 4.5-point dog for sports bettors. On Jan. 23 in Portland, the Blazers were victorious 110-105 as a 6.5-point favorite (Aldridge had a career-high 44 points). Finally, on Feb. 25 in Denver the Blazers won 100-95 as a 2.5-point favorite on NBA odds. Aldridge missed that one and Lillard stepped up with 31 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Denver's J.J. Hickson went crazy with a career-high 25 rebounds off the bench (after 50 straight starts) as the Nuggets dominated on the boards with a 64-41 advantage with no Aldridge in there. However, the Nuggets were only 37-for-104 from the field and 4 of 20 from long range. Lawson missed that game as well.
NBA free picks: Add Portland -11.5 and the under 212 to your NBA picks. Denver is 1-10 ATS in its past 11 games and has covered just one of the past seven meetings. The under is 4-1 in Denver's past five and 4-0 in Portland's last four. The Blazers will do their part offensively, but the Nuggets will struggle to score to keep the total under. Aldridge practiced Friday and seems likely to play. Lawson won't.