The Portland Trail Blazers trail the Denver Nuggets 0-1 in their best-of-seven playoffs series. Losing the first game on the opponent’s court is not uncommon, but it’s got Blazers fans worried. Winning the first two against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Round 1 inspired confidence. Can a single loss take the air out of the sails? That’s the question in today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
The question on everybody’s mind, Dave. After the first game can the Blazers win the series realistically?
I think they could. Maybe better: if they ever had a chance, that chance hasn’t diminished much because of Monday’s result.
Denver wasn’t running away from Portland in Game 1. The Blazers did plenty of things right. For a while, their game plan even worked. 18 turnovers and a few brain-dead possessions scuttled the effort. If they clean up their mistakes and hope Denver misses a few three-pointers, the Blazers can walk into Game 2 just like the walked into the first, hoping for success.
Nikola Jokic will remain an unsolvable problem for the Blazers. They’re not going to be able to stop him. They’ll try to guide him into shots and plays that are less damaging. Read: perimeter shooting. If his teammates don’t shoot well, that’ll be easier.
The Blazers will hope Damian Lillard remains similarly-unsolvable for the Nuggets. Plus CJ McCollum has a higher scoring ceiling than he showed in Game 1. If he comes along on the Lillard Express, they have a shot.
Denver’s defense covered the floor pretty well on Monday, but the Blazers still shot over 50% from the floor. The one big hitch came when Portland’s non-scorers touched the ball. They’re not quite as used to being covered in pressure possessions. There was a fair amount of, “Should I take this shot?” as Denver defenders closed. If you even have to think that, it’s too late. For better or worse, Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, and Meyers Leonard are going to have to shoot or drive hard whenever they’re open. They need to make the Nuggets commit to finishing the play instead of hesitating and making it easy for them.
It’s also fair to ask whether the Blazers strictly need to win Game 2. If they lose, Game 3 becomes critical. Game 3 is also in Portland. The road team only needs to win one in the opponent’s building. Game 5 or Game 7 would do. As long as Portland can hold serve at home, this doesn’t really have to be decided until all the chips are on the table in the final go-around.
There’s no reason to think the Blazers are going to win this series. There never was after Jusuf Nurkic went down. The defensive hole in the middle remains the single most obvious factor in the matchup. It’s not the only factor, though. Saying there’s no reason to be convinced they’re going to win is not the same as saying they can’t win.
The Blazers need more things to go right than the Nuggets do in order to emerge victorious. So be it. Their job is to go out there and make thing go wrong for the opponent while holding firm to what got them there. Game 1 wasn’t a horrible start. Let’s see if the team can build on it enough to change the “L” into a “W”.
Long story short, the only way to deal with the middle of a playoffs series is to remain optimistic and focus on winning the next game. There will be plenty of time for reflection after the season is done. The post-season narrows the picture to a single game...sometimes single moments in that game. If you can’t figure out how to control those moments, you won’t succeed. If you don’t believe you have a chance to do so, you’ve lost already.
Game 2 tips at 6:00, Pacific tonight on TNT. Do you think the Blazers will win it? If so, how? Cast your vote in the comment section.