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Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Preview

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Home court for the first round of the playoffs is there for the taking if the Blazers can overcome the streaking Nuggets.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (48-32) at Denver Nuggets (45-35)

Monday, April 9th - 6:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Maurice Harkless (out)
Nuggets injuries: Gary Harris (probable))
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland), Blazers Pass
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Denver Stiffs

Just a few days ago the third seed seemed to be almost a done deal for Portland. After three losses in a row, though, Portland needs a win. It’s not just to hold onto the third seed, but the Blazers find themselves in jeopardy of dropping past the fourth seed into fifth and losing home-court advantage if they lose out and don’t get any help.

Denver is on a tear. Winners of five in a row, the Nuggets have finally hit their stride. Denver has averaged 119 points during their unbeaten run and have bounced back from the brink of elimination to being in the thick of the playoff chase in the nutso Western Conference. The Nuggets currently sit in ninth position, but are guaranteed a playoff spot if they can finish their regular season with two wins.

What to watch for

High efficiency from Denver. During their five-game win streak, Denver is scoring 116.6 points per 100 possessions, good for second in the NBA over that period. Compare that to the Blazers’ 105 points per 100 possessions over the same stretch. Portland will need to slow down the Nuggets offense if they want to come out on top.

Less-than-stellar defense from the Nuggets. While playing well on the offensive end, Denver is giving up 110.8 points per 100 possessions since their last loss, only good for 24th in the league. The Blazers clock in at 105. The bottom line: The Nuggets are getting points but they are also giving up points. Recently their offense has been good enough to carry the day. The Blazers have shown that they are capable of slowing down pretty much any team, but the odds certainly favor a high-scoring game with both teams making the scoreboard light up.

Can the Blazers keep the Nuggets off the offensive glass? Denver has been crashing the boards hard over the last five games. The Nuggets are pulling down 28.8 percent of available offensive rebounds over their winning streak, third best in the NBA. Compare this to the Blazers at 22.7 percent during the same time frame. The Blazers will have their hands full, but if they can rebound at least as well as Denver, Portland has every chance to come away with a win.

What they’re saying

Kyle Wagner of FiveThirtyEight sings the praises of one Nikola Jokic:

We’ve known since Jokic’s sophomore season that he is unique. He handles the ball at the top of the key, throws one-handed cross-court passes to shooters who aren’t yet open, lobs entry passes over fronting defenders, and posts up like he’s suiting up for Georgetown in the 1980s. He’s too multifaceted to be subjected to a trite Dirk Nowitzki comparison, and it would be too sacrilegious to compare him to truer points of reference. (Bird? Sabonis? KG?) If you refine the Basketball-Reference.com Play Index to show anything that remotely resembles what he does on the court, it has a tendency to spit out a list of one. There is no precedent for a player like Jokic, who can rebound, pass and shoot at the highest levels. There isn’t even a half-cocked historical precursor, like how when you look at Kevin Love from a certain angle he kind of looks like Troy Murphy. No. There’s only been one Jokic.

35-year-old Devin Harris, acquired in February, is having an impact according to Kyle Fredrickson of the Denver Post:

Nuggets coach Michael Malone told reporters in February that Harris was “gonna come in and be able to help us out in these close games.” He proved it Thursday night, and should the Nuggets once again be without injured starting guard Gary Harris (right knee), Harris will get substantial minutes.

Ashley Douglas of Denver Stiffs is optimistic for the future, even if they might not make the playoffs:

Well, this week they have truly earned their praise. To say that I’m impressed doesn’t quite encompass my feelings about their performance in these last few games. Being a fan through some very dark times, and watching this team struggle publicly for years I feel connected to them as I’ve seen them grow. Put simply, I’m really proud of the Nuggets, and I’m happy for them as they experience these major victories that take them closer to accomplishing their goals.

As I’ve watched this week’s games, and post-game interviews, I’ve gotten a bit of a feel for the emotional temperature of the team. I see three important trends happening that I believe will help the Nuggets get to where they need to be. Maybe it won’t be this season, but this type of environment can be recreated once it’s experienced, and after Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap have even more time on the court together next year I see it developing into something special.