TONIGHT, in Portland, Oregon, at the Organ Center, the Portland Trail Blazers (40-18, 3rd Place in the Western Western Conference) will play a basketball game with and against the Denver Nuggets (25-32, .481 Winning Pct.; Offense: 105.2 points per 100 possessions, 17th in NBA; Defense 107.7 points allowed per 100 possessions, 21st in NBA; 11th place in the Western Conference).

In the past week, the Blazers played the Nuggets in Denver and won a 100-95 squeaker. Then they played the Brooklyn Nets in Portland and absolutely crushed them in a 124-80 victory. Then the Nets played the Nuggets in Denver on Thursday and absolutely pantsed the home team, a 112-89 victory that wasn’t really that close. This is all to say that since the Nuggets last played the Blazers and turned in an honest effort, they have absolutely fallen into the darkest oceans of profoundest despair and made themselves into a punching bag waiting to be cut open with a steak knife and have its stuffing removed.

At least that’s what their coach, Brian Shaw, would have you believe. Shaw has been VERY vocal to the media about his team’s lack of effort. After a blowout loss to the Bulls, he told gathered reporters, “I told our team I wish paychecks were predicated on night-to-night performance. So if you play like a star on a given night then you get paid like a star. If you play like an uninspired player, then either you don’t get paid or you get paid like an uninspired player.” This is, obviously, not a sustainable system and a subtle endorsement of an extreme version of capitalism that would turn everyone in American society into a bleeding-finger’d assembly line worker who prays for death to take him or her away from the rat race.

Is this is totally fair? The Nuggets have been snakebitten this year; Ty Lawson has had recurring injuries and Danillo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, and Javale McGee are all out for the year. Im sure it’s frustrating for Shaw, a competitive person working in one of the competitive industries in the country, but there’s only so much you can do when more than 35 million dollars of your payroll is wearing suits on the bench.

Then again: “I’ve always said I can live with the losses, as long as we fight. But what’s hard for me is when we go from a tie or something in the first quarter, to down 20 by halftime, and then we come out in the third quarter and we just give up. And I felt like that’s what some of our guys were doing.” I have also been emotionally invested in J. J. Hickson’s defensive rotations and I can understand the frustration. But are reporters really the best people to vent to in times of stress? Or is this a strategy to motivate his players? There’s no way that really works, right? If your boss shaded you in public, you would be PISSED. Or is he trying to deflect blame away from himself? It’s probably why Popovich just always gives the reporters nothing, it’s just easier.

Are LaMarcus Aldridge and Meyers Leonard playing tonight? Who knows?! Gundersen says they’re practicing again, but everyone was pretty non-committal when asked if they’re playing or not. When they last played the Nuggets, Hickson exploited the small lineups and had 20-some-odd-rebounds, because that’s what he does. He says, “Is there anything in the way of me getting a rebound?” and if the answer is “Nope!” HE GOES AND GETS IT. But they still lost, so it wasn’t really that bad. Why am I still so mad at J. J. Hickson?

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