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How Critical is Game 3 for the Trail Blazers?

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Portland won homecourt advantage in Game 2 versus Denver. How much do they need it?

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

The Portland Trail Blazers will face the Denver Nuggets in Game 3 of their 2019 NBA Playoffs series tonight at 7:30 PM, Pacific. Portland evened the series at 1-1 by winning Game 2 in Denver on Wednesday evening. In doing so, they shifted “homecourt advantage” to their side, as long as they do not lose a game at home as well. Since that moment, those two words have been on the lips of analysts and fans alike. They’re the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Dave,

Homecourt is ours! Why am I still more nervous than happy? Does that make game 3 and 4 must wins?

Evaline

Technically they would have been even more essential to win had the Blazers lost Game 2, right? How important they are now depends on what goal we’re talking about.

Taking the lead in a best-of-seven series is always significant, but it only becomes critical when the gap between the two teams reaches two. As long as they’re tied or within a game of each other, nothing is must-win. The victor in Game 3 will have an advantage, but that will only tell if they also win Game 4.

Portland and Denver are fairly well matched. Their strengths and paths to victory are fairly clear. Denver has a large advantage in center offense over center defense. Portland’s job is to compensate for that defensively (taking away the opponent’s best weapon) or to score enough from the guard spots to outweigh it. Those things aren’t going to change much no matter what venue the game is played in. The series should be arena-agnostic.

I’d be surprised to see either team run away with this series. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them split games in Portland like they did in Denver. But that’s not doom for the Blazers. They’ve already shown they can win on Denver’s court. Offensive rebounds aside, they did it in fairly convincing, controlling fashion too.

This assessment gives relief from putting undue pressure on Portland for Games 3 and 4. The Blazers can’t lose BOTH of them, but if they win at least one, they’re not in any worse position than they are now. Then it’d become a three-game series for the win.

Another asterisk here: the Blazers don’t have to fear a Game 7. It’ll be played on Denver’s court, but at that point, what would that mean? In six contests, regardless of location, the teams would have ended up even. All other things equal, that looks like a coin flip. If you’re the road team in the series, having a coin flip to win it is a positive outcome.

To avoid that Game 7 coin flip, the Nuggets don’t just have to win one in Portland, but two. That’s a tall order.

For now, you can set your nervousness aside. It’d be better by far for the Blazers to win Game 3 than lose it. If they lose, you can bring back the anxiety for Game 4. If they win, they’d then have two further opportunities at home to win one game, which would automatically force a Game 7.

It does work the other way too, though. If Portland’s goal is to win the series outright at home, they need to win all three. If Denver can take one of three in Portland, they’ve done what they need to in order to avoid losing. The difference is, Portland is getting ahead of pre-series expectations if they force a Game 7, whereas the Nuggets are falling behind them. It’ll be easier for the Nuggets to avoid losing the whole thing in Portland than it will be for the Blazers to win the whole thing in Portland, but it’s also easier for the Blazers to force that crucial Game 7 than it will be for the Nuggets to avoid it. That’s why for now, for Portland, getting to Game 7 is a decent goal.

Winning the game on Wednesday was a big deal. The Blazers can’t exhale until the series is finished, but you can for a minute. The only awful outcome right now is losing both Games 3 and 4. As long as that doesn’t happen, Portland is still good.

(P.S. It’s kind of funny to see commentators and fans who swore up and down before Game 2 that homecourt advantage didn’t determine a series now switch to the hope that it does because the Blazers technically have it. It still doesn’t. The game the Blazers just won shows that.)

(P.P.S. Homecourt advantage doesn’t really work that way, I think. Depends on how you look at it, but the whole idea is that one team has four games at home, the other three. Win or lose, that remains true. Just because Denver lost doesn’t mean they suddenly play fewer games at Pepsi Center now.)

(P.P.P.S. How interesting would it be to have a format where the team with the better seed earned the right to host Game 1 of a series, but after that the next game was played on the home floor of whichever team won the previous one? That homecourt advantage could actually switch sides!)

(P.P.P.P.S. Fatigue is another factor to watch. By the time Game 6 comes around, Denver will have played 13 playoff games in 27 days, basically one every other night for most of a month. Injuries aside, extending this series is good for Portland.)