Thursday NBA on TNT Preview: Portland at Denver
by Matt Severance - 03/05/2009
First place in the Northwest Division is on the line tonight in Denver when the Portland Trail Blazers visit the Mile High City as 5.5-point underdogs.
Still, this is the NBA and there's a month-and-a-half left in the regular season, so that first-place thing isn't a major motivator. Plus the red-hot Utah Jazz are right on these teams' heels.
"I like the first place thing," Portland's Brandon Roy said to reporters. "But we could win and there's still 20 games left to lose first place. So I think it does say a lot to be in March and be fighting for a division title. That speaks loud and clear to us and how far we've come from last season. But it doesn't stop now. We want to be in April talking about the division. So it's baby steps."
Roy is the reason this game is for first, as he scored 28 points and made two free throws with just more than a second remaining on Wednesday as the Blazers beat Indiana. That 107-105 victory improved Portland to a stellar 27-3 when scoring 100 points this season. Center Greg Oden sat out, his eighth straight game missed, and he won't be back for at least a week with knee issues. The Blazers are 5-2-1 ATS without him in this stretch.
Portland, which is just 2-5 ATS in its past seven in the second game of a back-to-back, is 16 games above .500 for the first time since the 2002-03 season but has lost 10 of its last 11 games at Denver. A win tonight guarantees either team no worse than a split of the season series - the two meet for the fourth and final time in the regular-season finale at the Rose Garden in what could be a key tiebreaker game.
As for Denver, it had some internal drama this week with Carmelo Anthony. Melo was suspended for Tuesday's game at Detroit for insubordination. Even Anthony himself admitted he refused to come out of the previous game with Indiana when asked, but Carmelo says the punishment didn't fit the crime.
"I'm going to run. I'm going to run to the bench. I'm going to run hard to the bench," Anthony said Wednesday about the next time he is replaced on the floor.
Coach George Karl, meanwhile, wasn't in a joking mood about it and said his star "crossed the line" and added that had Anthony played against the Pistons, they "probably" would have won. But Denver lost for the fifth time in seven games (1-6 ATS).
Anthony, who is just 12-of-41 from the field in his past two games, will be back in the starting lineup tonight. He averages more than 26 points in his career against Portland.
These teams last met on back-to-back nights just before Christmas, with Denver winning as a 2.5-point home favorite 97-89 on Dec. 22 and Portland then doing so 101-92 on the 23rd as an eight-point home favorite. Anthony sat out both of those games with an injury.