Sunday night, the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets battle in a rematch, after Denver’s slim 117-10 victory Friday night. However, the Nuggets will rest three key players: Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, and Jamal Murray. With both teams fighting for playoff position, a late-season rest day is relatively rare. Let’s talk about the ramifications of a win or a loss for each team Sunday night.
What if the Blazers win?
The Blazers control their fate for home court advantage. Utah would have one more loss than Portland. If Portland wins their final two games (at LAL, vs SAC), they’ll play at Moda Center this weekend. If they lose either game, Utah can win out (at LAL, vs. DEN, at LAC) and steal home court.
But the Blazers’ seed is undetermined. Portland could still overtake the Rockets. If Houston drops one of their remaining games (vs PHX or at OKC), Portland wins out, and Denver (at UTA, vs. MIN) doesn’t lose out, the Blazers would leapfrog Houston into third. That would plummet Houston into Golden State’s half of the West bracket.
The Nuggets also control their fate, but just barely. If they win out, they own the second seed. But if they lose one more game, Houston could overtake them for the second seed by winning out. One concern for Denver: They play the Utah Jazz after the Blazers. The Jazz surely want to catch the Blazers, but if Portland beats Denver Sunday night, that’s a taller task.
What if the Nuggets win?
The Blazers no longer control their fate. If Utah wins out, they’d nab the fourth seed and Portland would fall to fifth. The Jazz would be extra-inspired in their upcoming match-up with the Nuggets.
Nothing changes for the Nuggets. They’re simply a step closer to sealing the second seed, but they control their fate regardless of tonight’s result.
So why is Denver resting their players?
Well, rest is certainly a good thing if you can get it. This gives Denver’s core a three-day break late in the season. That could pay dividends next weekend.
Denver controls their fate regardless of Sunday’s result, but a loss reduces their margin for error. If the few remaining games don’t have favorable results, this decision could end up hurting Denver, by costing them home court in a prospective second-round matchup with now-second-seed Houston. However, if the results do go their way, it could knock Houston all the way to the fourth seed, clearing both the Rockets and Warriors from Denver’s half of the bracket, and possibly giving them a slightly easier path to the Western Conference Finals.