The Portland Trail Blazers face the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the NBA playoffs, and John Hollinger of the Athletic has selected the Blazers to triumph over the Nuggets in seven games. Hollinger’s reasoning touches on how while the defense has struggled, the Blazers’ offense is torching opponents’ nets.
Portland’s defense ranked 29th overall, with no real stopper and at times embarrassing transition sequences, but the Blazers did defend more credibly over the season’s final 10 games. They still aren’t exactly amazing at this end but don’t need to be because their own offense is so good. The Blazers finished second in offensive efficiency despite losing CJ McCollum for half the season. With him and Damian Lillard in the lineup, the Blazers are 26-17 this year; Lillard-McCollum units are plus-9.3 points per 100. The midseason acquisition of Norman Powell juiced that further; Lillard-McCollum-Powell trios are plus-14.2 with a ridiculous 120.8 offensive rating.
As for Denver, Hollinger notes that they are missing pieces, namely Jamal Murray, but they still have Nicola Jokic and Michael Porter, Jr.
Nonetheless, the Blazers aren’t drawing dead in this matchup at the defensive end. Jusuf Nurkic is at least a competent foil for Jokic and should prevent the worst carnage. Enes Kanter? Not so much. The Blazers’ small guards won’t be exposed against Denver’s backcourt, and the lack of shooting aside from Porter should enable the Blazers to double Jokic more willingly.
While Hollinger acknowledges that he doesn’t have a “great feel” for the outcome, he still chooses the Blazers to prevail.
You can read all of his picks here (subscription required).