At the start of last night’s Blazers vs. Nuggets playoff game, the TNT announcers argued that this could be the first of many playoff matchups for two up-and-coming Western Conference foes.
The argument kind of caught me off-guard. The Blazers and Nuggets are just two years removed fighting tooth and nail for the final playoff spot, and now they’re up-and-coming possible contenders?! Damn.
Logical follow-up question (assuming you think like an NBA blog-bot): Could the two teams become rivals? Let’s investigate!
Is there a history?
There’s no Lakers/Celtics history, or even Lakers/Suns history, between Portland and Denver. They’ve only played in the playoffs twice before, the most recent series happening more than 30 years ago. But they have played their fair share of tight games in recent years, suggesting that they’re evenly matched and could create a compelling playoff series.
My personal favorite was the 115-113 Blazers victory on Oct. 29, 2016 that featured this beautiful Damian Lillard alley-oop:
And, of course, the apex of Nurk Fever hit against the Nuggets in the Bosnian Beast’s revenge game:
Portland has lost seven of the last eight games between the teams, but none have been blow-outs so some revenge performances may be coming next season.
Is there a compelling storyline?
The Nuggets and Blazers are about as linked as two teams can get. A pair of trade deadline deals from 2014 and 2017 continue to have ripple effects on the franchises. Will Barton, Jusuf Nurkic, Mason Plumlee, and Malik Beasley all swapped teams in the trades, to say nothing of Arron Afflalo.
Adding to the intrigue, the latter trade happened in the middle of a playoff race and sparked the Blazers to 17 wins intheir final 23 games to sneak into the postseason at Denver’s expense.
The Blazers and Nuggets also combined for one of the most contrived playoff seeding manipulations in NBA history at the end of this season. It’s complicated, but suffice to say after Denver strategically rested players against Portland, presumably to tacitly throw the game, the teams ended up avoiding the Warriors in the second round via an insane combination of Paul George and Maurice Harkless buzzer beaters, Anfernee Simons clutchness, and Isaiah Thomas.
If these teams do meet in future series, there will be no shortage of halftime story fodder for ESPN and Turner to mine.
Do they share some animosity?
Nurkic tried as hard as he could to spark some hatred between the teams shortly after joining the Blazers, but it hasn’t seemed to catch on so far:
Compared to the Lillard/Russell Westbrook pro wrestling-esque showdown from the first round, this series has been downright polite. That may change if they keep playing each other, but for now the matchup hasn’t reached arch-nemeses levels of animosity.
Are they on the same trajectory?
The Blazers and Nuggets beat out the Rockets, Thunder, Jazz, and every other pre-season favorite for the two and three seeds in the west. This follows an upward trend for both franchises — both teams have win totals trending upward over the last three seasons — and both teams rely on younger players.
The rosters likely need some tweaks, but there’s reason to believe that the Blazers and Nuggets can keep contending for home-court advantage, and the Western Conference Finals, in upcoming seasons. If that happens, we may soon see some rivalry talk.
Readers — do you think the Blazers and Nuggets could become rivals? Let us know in the comments!