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Trail Blazers-Nuggets Preview

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With less than two weeks left in the regular season, the Denver Nuggets are tumbling down the Western Conference standings with an offense that's out of rhythm.

The Portland Trail Blazers' offense has never looked better. As a result, they're suddenly closing in on the slumping Nuggets.

Denver returns home Thursday hoping to avoid a sixth loss in seven games when it hosts the red-hot Trail Blazers.

Not so long ago, the Nuggets (48-27) looked capable of challenging the Los Angeles Lakers for West supremacy. Denver led the Northwest Division and was second in the conference March 18, but has since lost five of six. The Nuggets are now 1 1/2 games behind Utah in the division and fifth in the conference, 1 1/2 games ahead of sixth-place Oklahoma City.

The Trail Blazers (46-29) have won 12 of 14 to clinch a playoff berth, and pull within one-half game of the Thunder and two of the Nuggets.

Portland's offense - once a pedestrian unit - is now leading the charge. The Blazers have scored at least 100 points 14 times in their last 18 games after doing so only 20 times in their first 58 contests.

Their resurgent offense is coming off one of its most impressive performances of the season. Portland put 95 points on the board through the first three quarters Wednesday, cruising from there en route to a 118-90 home win over New York. LaMarcus Aldridge shot 10 of 12 from the field and had 21 points before sitting out the final quarter for the Blazers, who locked up their second straight postseason bid after a five-year absence.

"This is what it's all about,'' coach Nate McMillan said. "This is what we play for.''

While Portland is soaring, Denver's normally-potent offense isn't playing up to its standards.

The Nuggets, third in the league with an average of 106.9 points, have been below 100 in seven of their last eight games. In Monday's 109-93 loss at Dallas, neither Carmelo Anthony nor Chauncey Billups could find his shot.

Anthony - the league's No. 3 scorer with a 28.5 average - endured his worst shooting performance of 2009-10, missing 13 of 16 shots and finishing with a season-low 10 points. Billups didn't fare much better, going 3 for 14 from the floor and finishing with 11 points - 8.7 below his average.

"At this point, I just think everybody's just doing too much talking," Billups told the team's official Web site. "We've just got to come out and play and lay it all on the table, come out and just get to work, as opposed to saying what might happen. It's just too much talk already. It's time for everybody to come to play."

Even after wrapping up a 1-4 road trip, Denver seems to have a decent chance to finish the season strong with five of its final seven contests at the Pepsi Center, where it's 17-3 since Jan. 5. The Nuggets have also won 18 of their last 20 home meetings with the Blazers, including a 118-106 victory March 7 to take a 2-1 edge in the season series.

Anthony is averaging 34.3 points on 52.4 percent shooting versus Portland this season.

Tagged: Nuggets, Trail Blazers

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