BLAZERS AT NUGGETS
6 p.m. Wednesday at Pepsi Center, Denver (CSN cable Channel 37)
Key match-up: Ty Lawson vs. Jamal Crawford
We’ve seen one game with Crawford as the Blazers’ starting point guard, and while it produced a 43-point win, it also came against a team playing without its three best players. Wednesday will offer a more authentic look at how Portland plays with Crawford at the helm of an offense, but trying to slow him down is Lawson, who’s among the fastest point guards in the league.
This, of course, is assuming Lawson is fully recovered from his ankle sprain, but he is expected to return after the All-Star break. In the 30 games he has played this year, he’s averaged 15.4 points and 6.1 assists.
To win: While Lawson should be back for Denver, the team’s leading scorer, Danilo Gallinari, will still be out. The Nuggets have suffered since the Italian injured his ankle earlier in the month, dipping to 18-17. But they have also been known to be a resourceful team regardless of personnel, so LaMarcus Aldridge will need to expose their weakness and have a big night in his first game back since his weekend in Orlando.
HEAT AT BLAZERS
7:30 p.m. Thursday at Rose Garden (TNT)
Key match-up: LeBron James vs. … like it matters
For all the postseason criticism James has garnered, few will dispute he’s one of the greatest regular-season players the NBA has ever seen. And he’s having his best year yet. His 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists are about on par with his career averages, but his .548 field-goal percentage and .413 3-point percentage are career highs. All in all, it has added up to a stratospheric player efficiency rating, and when you take into account his defensive prowess, well … it could be a long 48 minutes.
To win: Oh yeah, the Heat also have Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — perennial All-Stars who were on the Olympic team in Beijing. And they have helped the Heat win an NBA-high eight straight games while holding a share of the league’s best record with Oklahoma City at 27-7.
However, Miami needed overtime to win the last time it visited the Rose Garden, and Portland actually won the last time they met. Still, it is going to take big games both offensively and defensively for everyone in a Blazer jersey.
TIMBERWOLVES AT BLAZERS
7 p.m. Saturday at Rose Garden (CSN cable Channel 37)
Key matchup: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Kevin Love
It’s quite possible that Saturday’s game will feature the two best power forwards in basketball. Love may not have the above-the-rim acrobatics of a Blake Griffin. And Aldridge might not possess the notoriety of a Chris Bosh. But based on the merits of pure production, it’s tough to top these two.
Love currently holds ridiculous averages of 25 points and 14 rebounds. The only perceivable flaw on offense his .446 field-goal percentage, but that’s primarily the result his 3-point attempts per game, which, considering he just won the 3-point shootout in Orlando, are justified.
Aldridge, meanwhile, comes in averaging 22.3 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting .506 from the field.
To win: This is not the gimme game it used to be for the Blazers. After suffering the worst record in the NBA last year, Minnesota is now a .500 team that sits just one game behind Portland in the Northwest Division standings. And with rookie Ricky Rubio starting at point guard, the Wolves have become one of the most entertaining teams in the league.
Portland will need to get production from bench players such as Raymond Felton and Wesley Matthews while getting solid output from Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum. There’s no room to relax.