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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets Game 1 Preview

The Blazers’ postseason begins in Denver.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (42-30) vs. Denver Nuggets (47-25)

The Portland Trail Blazers enter the playoffs relatively healthy and full of confidence. Winners of 10 our of their last 12 games, the Blazers appear to peaking at exactly the right time. Jusuf Nurkić is playing his best basketball of the season, the three guard lineup of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Norman Powell seems to be clicking, and the defense has gone from miserable to...well, less miserable. Four weeks ago, most of Rip City was ready for the season to wrap up. Now, optimism from most quarters is the rule of the today.

On the other hand, he Denver Nuggets are still smarting from the injury to Jamal Murray on April 12. In most people’s minds, the Nuggets have gone from legitimate title contender to a good team with an MVP-caliber player with no real title chance (sound familiar?). Make no mistake, this is still a fine team with plenty of talent. The Blazers will need to be at the top of their game to have a chance of being victorious. It should be a great series.

Saturday, May 22 - 7:30 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, ESPN, NBA League Pass or see games all season on fuboTV
Blazers injuries: Zach Collins (out)
Nuggets injuries: Jamal Murray (out), PJ Dozier (out), Will Barton (out), Austin Rivers (questionable)
SBN Affiliate: Denver Stiffs

What To Watch For

  • Battle of the big men. Nikola Jokic is probably the favorite to win the MVP award this season. Jusuf Nurkić on the other hand hasn’t made an all-star team yet. Is this a fair fight? Absolutely, and here’s why: Portland doesn’t need an MVP performance from Nurkić to win, while Denver absolutely needs an MVP performance from Jokic to succeed. Nurkić must make things difficult for Jokic, protect the rim when guards penetrate, and stay out of foul trouble. If he can achieve those things he may well win the battle, even if the statistics look substantially better for Jokic.
  • Can the Blazers win the three point line? Both the Blazers and the Nuggets have been maligned for their three point defense. Portland allows 12.9 makes from deep a game, while Denver gives up 13 per game, good for 19th and 20th in the NBA respectively. Nuggets’ opponents shoot 36.3% from beyond the arc, and Blazers’ opponents shoot 37.2%. It’s the offensive end of the stats though where Portland outshines Denver: 15.7 makes per game for the Blazers vs. 12.9 for the Nuggets. Portland shoots them at a better percentage too: 38.5% vs 37.7%. Three is greater than two, so any advantage the Blazers can get in this department is crucial.
  • Which team will bring the energy? Fatigue and which team deals with it the best could be deciding factor. The teams start out on equal footing, having both enjoyed a long break kicking back and watching the Play-In. Elevation could play a role, and Denver of course is acclimatized to high elevation, a key advantage in a series with four games taking place at 5280 feet. On the other hand, the Blazers are as healthy as they have been all season while Denver will need to cover for key absences. Whichever team can play with high energy over four (or five, or six, or seven) games is likely the one to come out victorious.

What Others Are Saying

Denver’s role players need to keep stepping up according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post:

In order for the Nuggets to survive the Blazers, Denver’s role players must continue to ease the burden on Jokic. If Campazzo, Gordon and Rivers prove their 3-point shooting is trustworthy, it might put Portland’s defense in an untenable position, forced to choose between the MVP favorite and role players who’ve been empowered by said MVP.

Mile High Sports writes that it is go time for the “disrespected” Nuggets:

Denver has been disrespected all season long. Jokic has been especially disrespected despite his ability to move the needle in every game he plays in. There is no question the first round will be difficult for Denver, but with Jokic ready to rock and the rest of the roster ready to roll, meaning the time is now for the Nuggets to get going in the playoffs.

Michael Porter Jr.’s inclusion as a finalist for Most Improved Player is well deserved according to Brandon Ewing of Denver Stiffs:

Fast forward to this year and Porter has taken a massive leap forward bumping his points per game average up to 19. Not only has Porter scored the ball with ease, but his efficiency has been incredibly high as he shot 44.5 percent from three in the regular season. And it’s not as if Porter doesn’t shoot many threes and that’s why his percentage is so high, MPJ is attempting just over six threes (6.3) a night and is making (2.8) almost half of them.