Most everybody in the orbit of the Portland Trail Blazers knows that tonight’s game against the Denver Nuggets, previewed here by Peter Sampson, will play a big role in determining the fate of the season. The Blazers own the tiebreaker over Denver. Denver’s schedule is murder. They need to beat the Trail Blazers tonight or they’re going to have a hard time justifying optimism in the race for the 8th seed in the Western Conference.
The playoff implications attending this game have eclipsed one of the more interesting stories in it: the grudge match between nearly every center involved for both teams. The evening provides a grand stage for justification or failure of a bunch of 7-footers.
Jusuf Nurkić—the force behind Portland’s resurrection and one of the primary reasons for their playoff run—spent the first half of the year playing second fiddle in Denver. The Nuggets anointed his counterpart, Nikola Jokić, as their savior...much to the chagrin of the Bosnian Beast. Nurkić is averaging 14 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks per game as a Trail Blazer. Jokić averages 16 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and a block for Denver. Jokić has an edge in per-minute and advanced stats, but the prospect of a head-to-head matchup is exciting under any circumstances, let alone their first reunion with the playoffs on the line.
And then there’s Mason Plumlee waiting in the wings. After becoming the only tenured player on Portland’s roster who didn’t sign for huge money last summer, Plumlee was traded for none other than...Jusuf Nurkić. He’s getting slightly fewer minutes in Denver than he did in Portland but his per-minute numbers are virtually identical. Now he has a chance to stuff that trade and lack of contract right back down Portland’s throat.
The scoreboard is clearly the most important feature of tonight’s contest, but the stat lines and byplay between Nurkić, Jokić, and Plumlee will provide a fascinating narrative of their own. All eyes will follow the point tally, but we’ll need to spare a second glance for the battle in the middle. If it doesn’t decide the game, at least it’ll provide plenty of drama.
What say you? Are you pumped to see these surging behemoths face off tonight or does some other aspect entice you more. If you could pick one of the three centers to be your starter, which would you choose? Are you among the Nurkić faithful saying there’s no better fit or would Jokić tempt you?
Weigh in below as we await tip-off!