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NBA Playoffs: Trail Blazers vs. Nuggets Game 4 Preview

How will both teams respond after battling through a grueling four-overtime Game 3?

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NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets (Series: 2-1 Portland)

May 5, 2019 - 4:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Jusuf Nurkic (out), Enes Kanter (day-to-day)
Nuggets injuries: Michael Porter Jr. (out)
How to watch on TV: TNT
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, Sling, DirecTVNow
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Denver Stiffs

The Portland Trail Blazers look to take a 3-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. Portland managed to squeak by Denver in a four-overtime thriller Friday night. CJ McCollum led the way with 41 points in 60 minutes for Portland, while Damian Lillard contributed 28 points and 8 assists in 58 minutes. Jamal Murray led Denver in scoring with 34 points in 55 minutes, but Nikola Jokic shouldered most of the burden with 33 points, 18 rebounds, and 14 assists in 65 minutes (the most in a playoff game since 1953!).

Game 4 tips off just over 40 hours after the conclusion of Game 3 and is important for both teams. Denver can still get a split in Portland and head back to their home court with the series all tied up. The Blazers would love to go back to Denver with a 3-1 series lead and a chance to finish the series in Game 5.

Adjustments for Game 4

  • Who has the energy? The starters for both teams played an unreal amount of minutes on Friday’s marathon. In the regular season both coaches would likely sit several players for “load management” after such a grueling contest. But this is the playoffs, and everyone will need to dig deep for a crucial Game 4. Getting solid contribution from bench players who didn’t exhaust themselves on Friday could be a factor. Players like Malik Beasley, Monte Morris, and Mason Plumlee for Denver, along with Seth Curry, Evan Turner, and Zach Collins could be larger factors on Sunday than they have been so far in the series.
  • Three-point shooting. In the first round against Oklahoma City, Portland shot 40.5 percent from beyond the arc. So far against Denver, the Blazers are shooting only 32 percent. Damian Lillard has been uncharacteristically off, shooting a combined 3-16 from deep in the past two games. Al-Farouq Aminu has not been able to take advantage of any open looks, going just 1-10 in the series. Curry, who shot 45 percent from three during the regular season, has only managed to hit 3 of his 10 attempts. The Nuggets defense was first in defending the three-point line during the regular season (opponents shot only 33.9 percent), but Portland needs to do a better job of knocking down their looks from deep.
  • Rebound, rebound, rebound. Portland did a better job on the boards in Game 3 after getting out-rebounded 69-58 in Game 2. They still gave up 24 offensive rebounds, but they managed to pick up 24 offensive boards as well (Denver led 76-71 in total rebounds). Despite being out-rebounded in the series, the Blazers have scored more second-chance points than the Nuggets. That may not hold if they give Denver more than 20 second-chance opportunities again. Portland needs to stay focused on defense, then make sure they get back in rebounding position and box out in Game 4.

What they’re saying

Evan Fiala of Denver Stiffs writes that the Nuggets have to overcome the adversity of losing in four overtimes:

Make no mistake, this is a tough loss to swallow. Denver could have had this game if it weren’t for some costly mistakes in overtime and some untimely missed shots. But the Nuggets lost, and now they face digging a deeper hole on Sunday.

But this kind of adversity isn’t new for the Nuggets. They overcame injuries all season long. They were down 2-1 against the Spurs, came back with a statement win in Game 4, then sealed the deal in Game 7. Tonight they came back from behind multiple times. Now they get a Game 4 in another hostile environment with fatigue being a real factor. That’s no excuse. Adversity has defined this entire season. It’s only appropriate that it will define this series.

Justin Verrier of The Ringer worries Denver coach Mike Malone may have played Jokic too much in game 3:

We get it—it’s a crucial playoff game, in a hostile arena, and you want to ride the players you can trust. But the diminishing returns started around the second overtime, when Jokic—who, again, usually played less than half as many minutes in the regular season—began wobbling around like he had just done leg day for the first time in his life. And while his final line was well-fed (sorry)—33 points, 18 rebounds, 14 assists—he wasn’t all that effective in the war of attrition: Jokic shot 12-for-20 in regulation, but just 1-for-5 in the four overtimes.

Brad Botkin of CBS Sports writes that McCollum is an underappreciated player:

As for McCollum, I’m here to tell you: This dude is Kyrie Irving without the hype. There is nobody in the league as smooth with the ball in terms of creating space and razzle-dazzling defenders to death than McCollum, and his clutch shot-making is second to none. And that’s not just this game. This guy, like Lillard, has been killing defenders for years and just doesn’t get the love he deserves.