5-on-5: Nuggets-Blazers on Christmas

Originally Published: December 24, 2009
ESPN.com

ESPN and ABC are serving up a five-course banquet of basketball on Christmas Day: Heat-Knicks, ESPN, 12 ET; Celtics-Magic, ABC, 2:30 ET; Cavs-Lakers, ABC, 5 ET; Clippers-Suns, ESPN, 8 ET; and Nuggets-Blazers, ESPN, 10:30 ET.

For this quintuple-header, we're playing 5-on-5: That's five writers on five questions on five games on Christmas Day.

5-on-5: Heat-Knicks | Celtics-Magic | Cavs-Lakers | Clippers-Suns | Nuggets-Blazers

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: It probably comes down to how much you believe in Ty Lawson. The Nuggets were transformed by the arrival of Chauncey Billups, who is not built for the future. Meanwhile, Portland's key players could all be at their peak in a few seasons. I'll say Portland, by a whisker.

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: I'll still take the Blazers' future. Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Fernandez, Greg Oden, Martell Webster, Jerryd Bayless and Nicolas Batum are all 25 or younger. And if Portland's backups had to move into starting roles it's easier to imagine them being consistent than to project Chris Andersen, J.R. Smith and Lawson as full-time players.

Kevin Arnovitz, TrueHoop: Both teams have guys on the wing you can build a franchise around and creative front offices that know how to build. I'll take Portland, only because its spreadsheet going forward has more blank fields, whereas the Nuggets are going to need more time to free up substantial cap space.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Since I was one of the people who wrote it, you can probably guess I still like Portland's a little better because they have more good young players, and the Blazers are in a slightly better position financially. But it's not an easy call.

David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: It's close, but I like Denver. As currently constructed, they have a plan and a purpose each day with the personnel they have. So it's easier to identify new pieces to add to the plan. I'm not convinced Portland has its plan figured out yet.


Abbott: Carmelo Anthony has intermittent effort issues on defense, which would freak me out if I were a Nuggets fan. As it is, I'm a biased Blazers fan, so I'll say Roy.

Adande: Give me Carmelo. I always like proof over potential, and we've seen Carmelo lead an NCAA team to the championship and an NBA team to the conference finals. We've also seen Anthony max out his talents -- tough to imagine him playing much better than he has been this season -- while Roy hasn't arrived at that level yet.

Arnovitz: Another impossible choice. Since positional versatility offers a team tremendous flexibility, let's go with Roy. You have the luxury of playing him at the point, off-guard or small forward in a three-guard lineup. He's also capable of defending all three positions, something Anthony would struggle to do. But offer me Carmelo Anthony, and I'll snatch him up for the taking.

Hollinger: Melo. As much as I like Roy, who is one of the league's most well-rounded and smartest players, Anthony is such an overwhelming force as a scorer that he more easily creates mismatches and opportunities for others. Additionally, he gets to the line so often that he helps his team even when his shots aren't falling.

Thorpe: I'll take Melo. As defenses continue to evolve and improve, he will always be one guy that has no counter, which makes it easier on everyone else to score. And he seems more interested in defending, a desire that should grow every time his season ends with a loss.


Abbott: Neither. To me the perfect approach is to start a big, slow-paced unit that features last season's top-rated offense: Roy on the ball surrounded by shooters like Blake. Then Miller could lead a speed lineup with LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless and the gang.

Adande: No. Don't trade someone just to trade them. Other GMs are wary of Miller's age (33) and Blake's salary ($4.9 million), making it hard to find a great player in the same range. So there aren't easy solutions to improving the team by moving them.

Arnovitz: The Blazers shoot the ball at a high percentage with their three-guard lineup of Blake, Miller and Roy. But the emergence of Jerryd Bayless gives the Blazers' management some flexibility. Could Blake's expiring deal, however modest, fetch a big body? In a league in which pure point guards are a dying breed, would Andre Miller be attractive to a team in need of some help at the 1 (to say nothing of the amount of cap space that would free up for Portland)? Or should the Blazers sell high on Bayless?

Hollinger: Yes on Blake, so that Miller can play more. The most interesting conversation I had this week was with an exec who told me Miller always plays his way into shape during the season, but that he isn't getting enough minutes to do it in Portland and is still in "mid-November" shape as a result.

Thorpe: Yes, only if they can get something decent from it. Miller is less of a fit as long as Portland does not want to feature a fast pace.


Abbott: The Birdman has a better, more memorable look going. But he's lagging about 15,000 hours behind in terms of TV facetime. So, Big Red, for this decade and the next.

Adande: Big Redhead. His style fit that town at that time ... and he delivered a championship. Although I'm impressed by Birdman's ability to make adults wear feathers and spiky hair.

Arnovitz: Bill Walton. Give it up for Carter-era counter-culture, gel-less coifs, and on-the-money outlet passes.

Hollinger: Big Red, but closer than you think. I was shocked at all the Birdman jerseys I saw in Denver during the conference finals last season, and if he stays upright through May he'll have taken part in more playoffs as a Nugget than Walton did as a Blazer.

Thorpe: Red, because his brand was built and solidified long before he got to the NBA. Plus, the story of him showing up at Bird's house in Boston after they won the title, when Bird told him he was going to sleep, and Walton just hung out on the floor by himself all night, is classic.


Abbott: Portland is out of sorts and injured. It's an open question if that sorts itself out in time for the playoffs. Until then, there's no reason a playoff series wouldn't go like their first meeting, which Denver won by a whisker.

Adande: Nuggets. The Blazers are still trying to figure out how to win a playoff series, while the Nuggets have designs on winning the Western Conference. Once again, proof over potential.

Arnovitz: The Nuggets are an offensive juggernaut right now and can manufacture points with a shoebox and some tinfoil. The Blazers might take them to the limit at the Rose Garden, but the Nuggets have too many ways to score.

Hollinger: Denver. Portland's size with Greg Oden was the one major advantage it had over a productive but fairly short Denver front line. With Oden gone and the Nuggets showing last season's conference finals run was no fairy tale, I have to take Denver.

Thorpe: I like Denver as of now. The playoffs are so much about trusting the system, because defense improves in the postseason, and the Nuggets have the superior system.

5-on-5: Heat-Knicks | Celtics-Magic | Cavs-Lakers | Clippers-Suns | Nuggets-Blazers