Trail Blazers-Nuggets Preview
With LaMarcus Aldridge out, fellow All-Star Damien Lillard picking up the scoring slack hasn't been much of a surprise.
Thomas Robinson's production has been much more unexpected.
Aldridge leads Portland with career-high averages of 23.9 points and 11.4 rebounds, but he's missed three straight games with a strained left groin. The forward will reportedly be re-evaluated, so it's unclear if he'll travel.
"It's the progression," coach Terry Stotts told the team's official website. "The injury has to heal and then he has to ramp things up, because (Aldridge) really hasn't done much in a couple weeks. So in addition to the injury it's then getting him back and ready to play on the court."
The Trail Blazers (38-18) are also without forward Joel Freeland because of a right knee sprain and center Meyers Leonard, who has a sprained left ankle.
Lillard is softening the blow of Aldridge's absence, averaging 30.3 points in three games and shooting 53.0 percent from the field - 8 of 16 from behind the arc.
The first-time All-Star turned in his best performance of that stretch Sunday, scoring 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting - including 5 of 8 3-pointers - in a 108-97 win over Minnesota.
Robinson's production, meanwhile, has been a pleasant surprise. The backup forward, averaging 4.5 points and 4.1 rebounds, had 14 points and a career-high 18 rebounds against the Timberwolves. He also came up with a key block on an attempted dunk in the fourth quarter that resulted in an alley-oop by Nicolas Batum.
"When we got back to the locker room we were calling (Robinson) 'Thomas Aldridge.' He was huge," Lillard said.
Lillard and Robinson will likely need to fill the void again since Aldridge had 44 points and 13 rebounds with five assists in a 110-105 home win over the Nuggets (25-30) on Jan. 23.
He had 25 points in a 113-98 win at Denver on Nov. 1, as the Blazers ended a nine-game losing streak there with their third victory in 27 visits.
Lillard has totaled 29 points in those two meetings.
Denver is dealing with a key absence of its own in Ty Lawson, the team leader with 18.0 points and 8.8 assists per contest. He has missed six games with a broken rib and it's unclear if he'll be available against the Blazers.
The Nuggets haven't fared too well without him, losing seven of eight after falling 109-95 to Sacramento on Sunday. They were outscored 39-18 in the third quarter when the Kings shot 11 of 18 from the floor and hit four 3-pointers.
"It's tough, man," guard Randy Foye said. "But we've got to stay together, we've got to keep fighting and keep believing; don't give in. That's the main thing. Everybody goes through times like this during the season. It's important for us to continue to fight, to keep pushing."
Foye has been a bright spot over the last two games, totaling 50 points while sinking 16 of 31 field goals - 11 of 18 from long distance. He scored 27 points against the Kings, but averages 9.0 on 11-of-32 shooting in his last four meetings with the Blazers.