Denver Nuggets v Portland Trail Blazers

Nuggets have no answer for LaMarcus Aldridge, fall to Trail Blazers


This is how a coaching adjustment can change a game.

In the first half, Ty Lawson was getting into the lane and carving up the Trail Blazers — he had 13 points, nine assists and led Denver to 67 first half points. Portland was getting its offense from LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 14 points in the first 24 minutes (and Wesley Mathews, who had 18 points before the break).

Blazers coach Terry Stotts made an adjustment, sliding the longer Nicolas Batum over to cover Lawson (instead of using Damian Lillard). The result was Lawson going 0-of-5 in the second half with just two assists. Meanwhile Brian Shaw made no adjustments on Aldridge — J.J. Hickson stayed on him and Aldridge went for 30 in the second half, including Portland’s final 15 points.

The result was a 110-105 Portland win in what was an up-tempo, entertaining game.

It’s also a game that summed up these teams two fairly well.

Portland’s defense was an issue in the first half as Denver was able to put up 67 points on 58.5 percent shooting, plus they hit 7-of-12 from three. Nate Robinson was doing his thing and added 13 points and Anthony Randolph had 12.

Portland’s defense just wasn’t that good — and with their offense it doesn’t matter most nights. That may come back to bite them in the playoffs. That said, Portland has defended better of late and did so in the second half of this game — it wasn’t just Batum, it was a team effort that held the Nuggets down.

Denver on the other hand has been hot and cold all season. It happens game-to-game, even quarter to quarter. Once Portland slid Batum on to Lawson there was no second player to create shots and direct the offense. Denver scored 38 points on 39.5 percent shooting in the second half after that monster first half. This has been the story of the Nuggets season. Hot and cold.

In the end, Aldridge got hot, Denver still covered him one-on-one with just Hickson, and the results were what you would expect. Portland picks up another home win and looks like a contender for stretches. And on Thursday night stretches were enough.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.