The Portland Trail Blazers needed a win over the Denver Nuggets in the final game of the regular season to avoid the 7th seed in the Western Conference and an appointment in next week’s NBA Play-In Tournament. With Denver playing for essentially nothing, the Blazers got their wish easily. They opened the game with 11 straight points and never looked back, winning in a blowout.
The Blazers put 7 players in double-figures in the game. including three starters over 20: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic.
The victory guarantees the Blazers will finish no lower than 6th in the conference, with a chance to finish 5th if the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers both lose their games. Those games are not final at the time of publishing, but it looks like the Lakers will win. We will post a separate update letting you know Portland’s seed and opponent.
The Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight. leaving Denver as the third seed and the Clippers as the fourth. You can judge seeding accordingly.
The Nuggets wanted this game like you want your fourth plate at the local buffet. If was easy and free, they’d take it. But they were moving slowly, like they had second thoughts about everything. The Blazers rattled off a 23-12 lead before the first period was half over. Denver didn’t defend at all and engaged in offensive sets with all the variety and vigor of plain, nonfat yogurt. The Blazers looked brilliant, but under these circumstances, they pretty much had to. Jusuf Nurkic scored 11 points in the period, as Nikola Jokic appeared to be playing defense mostly not to get hurt. The Blazers also hit 9 threes. Meanwhile Denver seemingly airballed every three they took, shooting like Robocop before Officer Lewis fixed his sights. The score read 43-22, Portland after one.
The Blazers started the second period like a bunch of wolves as the sausage factory. Carmelo Anthony looked around like, “I can shoot, and nobody cares?” The rest of the team raised their martini glasses and saluted him, and he proceeded to take every kind of shot known to humankind. They missed, but it hardly mattered. A couple of shots from CJ McCollum, who accumulated 16 points in the game’s first 16 minutes, were enough to keep the Blazers up by 20. Enes Kanter also played strong. To their credit, the Nuggets kept Jokic in for most of the period and he had 21 at the half. It remained to be seen whether he would appear in the second half. Either way, Portland led 72-55 at intermission.
Denver brought out their bench unit to start the second half, fulfilling their mission of not getting any crucial members of their rotation hurt in the last, relatively-meaningless, game of the season. The Blazers played their regular lineup, albeit with slightly less enthusiasm in the legs and rotations. But Portland doesn’t require much energy to score. The Nuggets cut the margin to 14 midway through the period, but Damian Lillard canned a couple easy threes to keep them at bay...way out in the bay, actually. When Anthony splashed a triple with three minutes remaining in the third, the Blazers crossed the 100-point mark and restored the lead to 20+. That was pretty much all she wrote. The scoreboard read 107-84 after three. The Blazers continued to tally points in the fourth like kids raiding Willy Wonka’s factory and Portland walked away with the win in the season finale.
Stay tuned for Steve Dewald’s analysis of the game.
We will post Portland’s next game in a separate post, as soon as the NBA releases the schedule. Welcome to the 2021 NBA Playoffs!