- The superstars for each team present inverse threats. The Blazers need Damian Lillard to score no matter what, even if some of the other things fall by the wayside. The Nuggets want all the scoring they can get out of Nikola Jokic, but his passing and rebounding are the scary, back-breaking factors that the Blazers can’t cope with. Portland isn’t guaranteed to win either way (for the millionth time...darn that Jusuf Nurkic injury!) but their best avenue opens if Lillard pours in a ton of points, but Jokic doesn’t do much damage besides scoring.
- On paper, the injured Blazers don’t have easy answers for Jokic. He’s likely to shine no matter what. As a result, Lillard’s production takes on added urgency. Damian has to have great enough games to bend Denver’s defense, then his teammates have to take advantage when called upon. A bad game from him will probably result in a loss. A good game could as well, if he’s the only one who came to play, but that good game is the first step.
- As usual with the Blazers, three-point shooting will be huge in this series. Denver defends the three well. Portland can’t shoot a low percentage from distance, as they’ll not survive an inside scoring battle with the Nuggets for long.
- Once again, watch the rebounding. These teams are both incredibly good on the glass. Any team that wrests control of the boards—particularly offensive rebounds—will have an instant advantage. Portland’s power forwards and small forwards need to be ready to rebound.
- One sneaky tactic for the Blazers might be to drive guards down the heart of the Denver defense. The Nuggets aren’t good shot-blockers. If Jokic gets in early foul trouble, all of a sudden the Blazers options—Kanter in the lane or going small-ball—look stronger.
- Do not dismiss the potential importance of Seth Curry. The Blazers need extra points and Denver’s bench gets shaky defensively. Curry could also play in a three-guard lineup. It’d be nice to see Evan Turner run the offense successfully from inside with the second unit, but that’s probably place-keeping. Curry has the potential to turn a game.
- If you see Will Barton, score on Will Barton.
The Blazers and Nuggets tip at 7:30 PM on TNT tonight.