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NBA Playoffs: Trail Blazers at Nuggets Game 1 Preview

The Blazers take on the Nuggets in Denver to open the series.

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

Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets (Series: 0-0)

Monday April 29, 2019 - 7:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Jusuf Nurkic (out), Enes Kanter (questionable)
Nuggets injuries: Michael Porter Jr. (out)
How to watch on TV: TNT
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Denver Stiffs

The Portland Trail Blazers had the luxury of watching from their couches as the Denver Nuggets played for their playoff lives. The Blazers have been off since April 23 when they defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder by a score of 118-115, taking the series 4-1. Damian Lillard was the hero, draining a 37-foot three-pointer at the buzzer like it ain’t no thang.

The Denver Nuggets on the other hand were in action on Saturday night, finally seeing off the San Antonio Spurs 90-86. Denver won’t have much time to rest, but they are surely flying high as they advanced out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2009. There is a real buzz about this team, and they’ve already showed resiliency and an ability to take a punch that makes them a dangerous opponent.

During the regular season the Nuggets took the series 3-1. All of the games were close though, with the first two being decided by a total of four points, and all four were within single digits. On paper, this playoff series looks like it’ll be fantastic. Will the poise and experience of the Blazers win out, or will youth and fearlessness carry the day for Denver?

Keys to the series

  • Nikola Jokic. Jokic is one of the rising stars of the NBA, and he provides a huge (no pun intended) problem for the Blazers. Bulky enough to bully opposing players in the paint, not afraid to shoot from deep, and a quality defender, Jokic is bad news for a team without their first-choice center and injury concerns with their second choice. If there is good news for the Blazers, it’s that Jokic hasn’t been terribly consistent in the playoffs. Jokic has only shot over 50% from the field once in seven games, and he’s scored as few as 10 points during the series with the San Antonio Spurs (in Game 1). On the other hand, he’s also scored as many as 43 on 63.3% shooting, so counting on poor play from him is not a good strategy. Frustrating Jokic will be a priority for the Blazers.
  • Rebounding. During the regular season, these two teams were the best in the NBA in terms of rebound percentage. Portland just edged out Denver, 52.6% to 52.4%. Of course, most of the numbers for Portland were with Nurkic available. Still, Enes Kanter is a very capable rebounder, but will he be able to hold his own if he’s not at full strength? Or will the backups be able to fill in if Kanter is not available? Portland has gotten solid rebounding contributions from many spots on the roster this year, so all hope is not lost if Kanter isn’t 100%. Regardless, the Blazers will need to find a way to be competitive on the boards if they want to win the series. Getting blown out on the boards is not an option.
  • Three-point shooting from the Blazers’ supporting cast. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum shot tremendously well from deep during the Thunder series, 48.1% and 44.7% respectively. If Denver was paying attention at all, they are going to do a better of job of limiting three-point opportunities for the Blazers’ stars. This means that Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, Seth Curry and Rodney Hood are going to get more quality looks from behind the arc. The question is: will they make good on those opportunities? Against the Thunder, Aminu and Curry came through while Harkless and Hood had a rougher time. Aminu and Curry shot 40.9% and 54.5% respectively, while Harkless shot 20% and Hood shot just 16.7% from three. If Denver defends Lillard and McCollum as expected and keeps them from getting many open looks, the series could well depend on the accuracy of the supporting cast from three.

What they’re saying

Everyone knows by now that Nikola Jokic can play basketball. His impact, though, is bigger than what you see in the box score according to Mark Kiszla of of the Denver Post:

But what Joker has done for Denver cannot be measured by statistics alone.

A better indicator of his impact? The wall-to-wall, fourth-quarter noise inside the Pepsi Center, where four years ago, this team was so unloved, that as guard Gary Harris recalls it: “There was nobody in the stands. We could barely get anybody in the (lower) bowl.”

What Jokic has done is give rebirth to a basketball franchise.

Adam Wells of Bleacher Report is ready to declare the Blazers defacto winners of the series before the first tipoff:

All signs point to a bright future for the Nuggets, led by Jokic. Michael Porter Jr. is a potential wild card who has superstar upside, but his injury history is concerning.

While the long-term future in Denver looks great, the present points to an easy path for the Blazers to reach the Western Conference Finals.

How are our friends at Denver Stiffs feeling about their team after getting out of the first round? Check out their round table:

Zach Mikash: Adam Mares said it when we were podcasting at the beginning of the season when I was worried about them performing consistently: “this team is good.” I have to admit I didn’t quite think they were as good as Adam did but man it’s pretty much the mantra for this season. Losing in the first round has been so beaten into Nuggets fans that it almost felt inevitable it was going to happen again, especially when they were trailing by double digits in games 2 and 4. They overcame it all though and it was such a microcosm of the entire season. This team is good and when it comes to Nuggets history, there’s a decent chance they will become the best.

Want to read more? Additional coverage here at Blazer’s Edge:

The Blazers Face The Nuggets In NBA Playoffs Second Round

2019 NBA Playoffs: Trail Blazers vs. Nuggets Stats and Strengths

Trail Blazers and Nuggets: An Unpredictable Matchup