By Jonathan Ryan Davis
1) A Real Test Against a Good Team: Tonight, for the first time this season, the Portland Trail Blazers face a legitimate contender in the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets have depth at every position, veterans at every position, and a coach who knows how to utilize those players at every position. It's easy to look good against mediocre teams; it's much more difficult to blow out a team who plays solid defense, rebounds better than most, and has offensive weapons who can stretch the floor and score in the paint. If the Blazers hope to be successful, they will need LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace to dominate Denver's front line. In particular, Portland must neutralize Nene, who just signed a huge contract with the Nuggets, which seems to be well deserved. If the Blazers play a balanced game in terms of defense/offense and up-tempo/half court, Portland should come out the victor, making a statement to the doubters who don't feel Portland is for real.
2) LaMarcus or Wallace?: For two consecutive games, Gerald Wallace has been "The Man" for Portland. Thus far, Aldridge has taken on more the role of "Robin" as he did with Brandon Roy. Aldridge has been a force, just not as powerful as Wallace. If Portland wants to be considered an elite contender, they need Aldridge to truly be "The Man" as Wallace has asserted in the first two games. With two legitimate "Men," Portland can contend for a title. It is during a game like tonight's where we need "Two Men" to step up. We'll see if that happens.
3) Turnover Differential: To win tonight's game, Portland needs to win the turnover battle. Portland has been strong in its first two games, turning the ball over nearly half as much as their opponents. Denver is much better at controlling the ball. If Portland can play the passing lane well and control the paint, they should win a hard fought game.
Tonight will be a lot of fun. Enjoy the Blazers' first true test!