NBA Playoffs Previews: Nuggets vs Trail Blazers

The Denver Nuggets will begin the NBA playoffs journey with a difficult first-round match-up against the fast-finishing and in-form Portland Trail Blazers.

After falling at the second round and losing the conference finals in the last two seasons, the Nuggets have their eyes squarely on the finals, and their form suggests they could pull off the surprise.

Winning 18 of their last 25 games, the Nuggets took third seed in the west over the Clippers thanks to winning the head-to-head and, with a physical brand of basketball, will be hard to beat.

The Trail Blazers would back themselves over just about anyone coming into the playoffs though, storming home with 10 wins in their last 12 games to narrowly avoid the play-in tournament. Their record of 42-30 was equal with the seventh-placed Los Angeles Lakers, who faced the opposite fate.

Portland beat Denver in their final regular-season game by 16 points, but with the Blazers playing for everything and the Nuggets virtually nothing, there is very little to take from that contest.

This series promises to be a shoot-out, with two of the NBA’s best attacking teams squaring off in what should be a thrilling series. Portland sits fifth in points per game, averaging 116.1, while Denver is just three places below with 115.1.

Portland’s run to the playoffs has been led by star Damian Lillard, who averaged 28.8 points per game during the regular season, making him the NBA’s fifth-highest scorer. The point guard has gone to another level in his last ten games though, knocking down 31.8 per game, while also shooting the ball at 56%, well above his season average.

The Trail Blazers have a very well-rounded attack, with seven players averaging north of ten points per game, however, they have a one-dimensional style which has brought them unstuck against the top teams.

Portland is last in the league for assists and, against a Denver team who have the 12th-best defence, more spacing of the floor will be needed. On the flip side, the Blazers have the league’s fourth-worse defence, and it creates quite the mismatch.

Denver’s defence may not be outstanding but, in a shoot-out, they take the edge on that end of the court and it could prove to be the difference, so long as they can find a way to slow down Lillard.

On offence, the Nuggets have been incredibly efficient, holding the NBA’s fourth-highest shooting percentage, and that is testament to their teamwork on the ball, with 26.8 assists per game leaving them fifth in that category.

Much of that is down to the spacing on the floor created by big man Nikola Jokic, who has led the team in points, rebounds and assists (26.4, 10.8 and 8.3, respectively). He receives ample support on the offensive end from Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. though, who have averaged 21.2 points and 19 points per game, respectively.

With those three leading the way on offensive contributions, Denver should have the firepower to just about match Portland’s offence. Not only that, but Portland has made more turnovers than any other team this year and, given the offensive rebounding of Jokic, extra possessions for Denver from both of those areas could prove to be the difference.

Verdict: Portland’s unreal form to make the playoffs will give them a head full of steam, but knocking over the third-seed Denver without home-court advantage might be one bridge too far. Still, this should be an epic series.

Nuggets in 7. $1.83 at Playup


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