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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets Game Three Preview

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The Portland Trail Blazers return home for Games Three and Four.

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NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Portland Trail Blazers are back home in the Moda Center taking on the Denver Nuggets in game 3 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Currently the two teams are tied with one win each. After a tough loss to the Nuggets, and some really loud Denver fans, Portland will likely be glad to be back at home.

Thursday, May 27 - 7:30 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA TV, or see games all season on fuboTV
Blazers injuries: Zach Collins (out)
Nuggets injuries: Jamal Murray (out), PJ Dozier (out), Will Barton (out)
SBN Affiliate: Denver Stiffs

What To Watch For

  • All the fans. The Moda Center is allowing 8,000 fans to fill its seats for the playoff games, as opposed to only 1900 at the end of the regular season. After a year and a half with no fans, and then just 10% capacity, a much more packed arena is going to have an impact. The Moda Center is infamous for being loud and having incredible fans, and I won’t be surprised to see the Blazers come out and put on a show.
  • Jokic. In game two especially, Nikola Jokic played like the MVP he has been nominated for. With 38 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists, he was a big difference maker for Denver. Portland seems to be struggling with an answer for him, and ultimately that could cost more than one game for the Blazers in this series. Hopefully they can answer back and pull off win number 2.
  • Portland’s Guards. Damian Lillard has been doing Damian Lillard things up and down the court. With 34 points and 13 assists in game one and 42 points and 10 assists in game 2, Portland’s star point guard has come out swinging. CJ McCollum and Norman Powell are trailing behind significantly with McCollum putting up 21 points in each game, and Powell scoring 10 and then 15. The three guard lineup is a good one when it works, but to hold their own in game three, they’re going to need to see more from both McCollum and Powell. The two guards have each proven what they’re capable of and I anticipate we will see them playing better tonight.

What Others Are Saying

Jokic has been coming through in big ways for Denver. Ryan Blackburn of Denver Stiffs explains:

The Portland Trail Blazers have decided that, for the most part this playoff series, they would single cover Jokić on post ups and isolations so that Jokić wouldn’t be able to take advantage of his dominant passing abilities. In these situations, it is up to Jokić to create shots for himself fairly often. He has been up to the task so far and has converted at a high rate. His 70.0% True Shooting currently leads the NBA playoffs, and he’s doing so while sporting a 37.3% Usage Rate, a higher than normal number for Jokić and one of the highest numbers in the entire playoff field.

The Trail Blazers strategy for winning is not double teaming Jokic. Royce Young for ESPN quoted Jusuf Nurkic:

“We want him to score and not get his teammates involved,” Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic said. “When he scores, I think we have a better chance. The fact he isn’t involving all his teammates, he gets more dangerous when he’s in and out. I think we feel more comfortable when he scores 30 or 40 and try to lock in on all the other guys to not have a big game.”

Nurkic clarified with a laugh that the Blazers don’t actually want Jokic to score, but the plan was clear. With the Nuggets short-handed, missing primary scorers Jamal Murray and Will Barton, Portland resisted sending double-teams at Jokic, instead playing him straight up with a single defender the entire game.

In a conversation between writers for The Oregonian, Aaron Fentress and John Canzano, Fentress explained his concerns going into the rest of the series:

“The one thing that is going to be really, really difficult for (the Blazers) to solve is the size issue,” Fentress said. “Clearly, you’re already at a size disadvantage. If the other team is being physical and aggressive and coming at you, it’s difficult to combat and overcome that in any sport.”