Denver Nuggets: Games vs. Clippers, Lakers and Blazers Are All Statement Games

Adam GrahamAnalyst IIFebruary 2, 2012

DENVER - DECEMBER 28:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets looks on during a break in the action against the Portland Trail Blazers at Pepsi Center on December 28, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Blazers 95-77. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets have a huge opportunity on their hands over the next three days. It’s a chance to finally separate them from the pack and prove they’re legitimate contenders.

Denver plays three consecutive games between now and Saturday, and every single one of them is a statement game.

If the Nuggets want to show the rest of the NBA that they’re for real and are more than just another good team in a deep Western Conference, they need to play their best basketball of the season over three straight nights.

Thursday @ L.A. Clippers

The Clippers boast one of the best players in the game today, Blake Griffin.

It might not seem fair to Nuggets fans that the Clippers are getting so much more attention than their team, despite the fact that the two teams have nearly the exact same winning percentage. The Clippers, also haven’t made the playoffs in more than five years compared to the Nuggets 50-win season last year.

That’s what happens when one team has players like Griffin and Chris Paul and the other prides itself on a balanced attack, in which seven or eight different players are capable of being the difference maker. It might not be fair, but it might favor the Nuggets in this instance.

Griffin might be tough to guard in the low post, but the Nuggets have the ability of throwing three different big, athletic bodies on him, two of which can be on the floor at the same time.

Denver is likely to start two centers against the Clippers—Nene and Timofey Mozgov—so they can match Griffin’s muscle. Granted, Mozgov might be a prime candidate for Griffin’s next poster, he’s a big body that can block shots and will compliment Nene when he is forced to step out to the elbow to guard Griffin.

The other matchup to watch is at the point guard position.Ty Lawson will have his hands full with a player that he should be striving to model his game after, Chris Paul. Lawson is playing in just his second game after returning from an ankle injury.

When Paul and Lawson aren’t on the floor, the battle will be between two accomplished veterans, Chauncey Billups and Andre Miller. Billlups has taken on more of a shooting guard role this season, but he’ll likely match up with Miller, who picked up the slack nicely during Lawson’s absence.

Friday vs. L.A. Lakers

The importance of this matchup as a statement game should write itself. If the point guards and the big men need to step up against the Clippers, then the wings really need to step it up against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

Aaron Afflalo and Rudy Fernandez will likely share the assignment of guarding Bryant, so hopefully the Nuggets depth will pay off. Neither player will become too exhausted in their defensive tasks if George Karl manages their minutes well.

Saturday @ Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers are another team trying to separate themselves from the rest of the pack in the West.

Denver has already played in Portland once this season and fell to the Blazers by a score of 111-102. In a game that saw shooting guard Wesley Matthews catch fire from behind the arc for the Blazers, hitting five three-pointers in eight attempts.

Matthews could be lethal again this time around, as Afflalo and Fernandez could be suffering a mental letdown, a day after their matchup with Kobe Bryant. It might be understandable, but it certainly won’t be acceptable in George Karl’s eyes, and it hopefully won’t be overlooked.

Overall, the Nuggets can’t overlook even the smallest detail from now until the end of the night Saturday. This three-game stretch is the only time they will play on three consecutive nights all season.

If they want to prove that they're a team to be reckoned with, this stretch has to be treated as the three biggest games of this abbreviated season, even if it's still early.

Follow Adam Graham on Twitter