The Portland Trail Blazers are in the midst of an incredible Western Conference Semifinals match-up with the Denver Nuggets that has taken the basketball world by storm. The back-and-forth battle has been rife with drama, intensity and clutch moments.
ESPN Senior Writer Zach Lowe is among those enthralled by the action, and came up with twenty-three reasons to enjoy what he calls the “wildest series of a wild second-round” ahead of Tuesday’s Game 5 in Denver.
Among the highlights:
• The Blazers and Nuggets are almost mirror images of each other. They lean slightly offense-first, and the series has leaned that way too. The combined score after four games is Denver by two. They tied for the league lead in offensive rebounding rate, and they rank first and second in this round. They both take care of the ball and force few turnovers, and this series has been predictably clean. They prefer a slow pace.
They build their offenses around deadly two-man games and run lots of the same actions. The series can feel like an endless series of pick-and-rolls and handoffs on one side of the floor -- with no other players on that same side.
• I suspect the Lillard isolation is why Denver shifted Gary Harris onto him, and Craig onto McCollum, in the second half of Game 4. Harris is quicker and shiftier. He has done good work on Lillard. It hasn’t gotten enough attention amid Jokic mania and the Murray roller coaster, but Harris has proved ready for the postseason hothouse. He competes on every possession, and he is not afraid to bulldoze through Lillard and McCollum when he flies into a Jokic handoff with some runway.
Leaning on Jokic:
• The series might be decided by those fraught moments when the best players are on the bench. Denver is minus-38 in the 30 minutes Jokic has rested. That is, like, impossible. Michael Malone has pivoted to using Millsap as the only starter in lineups that open the second and fourth quarters. Those groups include Will Barton, who came alive in Portland -- Will Barton revenge alert! -- and started half the season.
Malone might need to rejigger the rotation so one of Murray or Harris joins that group. Playing Millsap at center could be a way to do that. He has also experimented with pulling Jokic a bit earlier in the first and third quarters, as well as using him to anchor the second unit.
You can check out Lowe’s full article here.