Portland Trail Blazers (3) vs. Denver Nuggets (2): A Second Round Playoff Preview

by Casey Holdahl
Follow @chold

It took a while, but the Portland Trail Blazers finally know which team they're going to face in the Western Conference Semifinals. After having a few days off since advancing to the second round by way of eliminating the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, the Trail Blazers found out Saturday night that they would be facing the Denver Nuggets, winner of the two-seven matchup versus the Spurs in seven games, with Game 1 scheduled for Monday at the Pepsi Center.

Much like their first round series, the Trail Blazers find themselves going up against a team they struggled to best this season, even if all of the results were closely contested. Denver won three of the four matchups this season, with the one contest that Portland won coming in a game that saw the Nuggets rest the majority of their starting lineup. What's more, Portland had lost six-straight to Denver prior to their lone win this season. Considering how the regular season played out and the fact the Trail Blazers are banged up at the center position -- Enes Kanter is questionable with a left shoulder injury and Jusuf Nurkic (left leg) is out for the foreseeable future -- while Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is, regardless of position, one of the best and most versatile players in the NBA, the matchup is sure to be a difficult one for Rip City.

But few expected the Trail Blazers to eliminate the Thunder, let alone in five games, after Oklahoma City swept the regular season series. There were also questions going into the first round about how Kanter, who had only recently assumed the starting role with Nurkic out for the season, would fare against Thunder center Steven Adams and a team looking to take advantage of his limitations on defense, and yet he proved to be one of the main reasons Portland was able to bounce another Northwest Division team.

And of course, there's Damian Lillard, who was the NBA's best playoff performer through the first round. While the Nuggets boast a number of high-caliber guards such as Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton, Lillard is playing at a level seen only by the NBA's truly elite. If he picks up versus the Nuggets where he left off with the Thunder, and if CJ McCollum, Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and the reserves are able to match or even exceed their level of play in the first round, advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in almost 20 years is a real possibility.

Though there's a lot of basketball to play before now and then. So to prepare for the Western Conference Semifinal matchup between the two-seed Denver Nuggets and the three-seed Portland Trail Blazers, here's an overview of the series, which tips off Monday night at 7:30 p.m. on TNT.

SECOND ROUND SCHEDULE

PORTLAND - DENVER SECOND ROUND SCHEDULE

GAME

DATE

LOCATION

TIME (PDT)

Television

Game 1

Monday, April 29

Denver

7:30 PM

TNT

Game 2

Wednesday, May 1

Denver

6 PM

TNT

Game 3

Friday, May 3

Portland

7:30 PM

ESPN

Game 4

Sunday, May 5

Portland

4 PM

TNT

Game 5*

Tuesday, May 7

Denver

TBD

TNT

Game 6*

Thursday, May 9

Portland

TBD

ESPN

Game 7*

Sunday, May 12

Denver

TBD

TBD

*if necessary

PLAYOFF SERIES NOTES

• Portland and Denver have faced each other twice previously in the postseason, with each team winning one series.

• The Trail Blazers and Nuggets are 5-5 against each other in the playoffs, all-time.

• The Trail Blazers defeated the Nuggets 4-2 in the 1977 NBA Western Conference Semifinals despite Denver holding home court advantage. Portland won the NBA Championship that year.

• The Nuggets took a five-game first round series vs. the Trail Blazers in 1986, 3-1.

• Former Trail Blazers Will Barton and Mason Plumlee have playoff experience with the Trail Blazers. Barton averaged 6.4 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.4 assists and 11.6 minutes in six games during the 2014 postseason vs. Houston and San Antonio. Plumlee posted averages of 7.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.00 block and 27.8 minutes in 11 starts vs. the LA Clippers and Golden State in 2016.

• The series is only Portland’s second playoff matchup against a divisional opponent since facing the Lakers in 2002 as members of the Pacific Division. Entering this postseason vs. divisional rivals Oklahoma City and Denver, the Trail Blazers had never faced a Northwest Division opponent since the division was formed in 2004-05.

TRAIL BLAZERS TALK NUGGETS

Damian Lillard on matching up with the Denver Nuggets...

"Obviously they've been one of the best teams in the league all season long, play really well at home. They coming off a great series, a tough, seven-game series with San Antonio where they got they feet wet, got a lot of their first experience in the playoffs. I'm sure not they comfortable, not as uptight, I guess, about it. You get pushed to seven games, you come up big, now they broke into the playoffs so they going to be coming into this round confident. Once again having home court, they played well against us the regular season, so it's going to be a challenge for us."

Lillard on the play of Jamal Murray this season...

"He's a really good young guard. Really aggressive, really confident and he's played a huge role in the success of their team. Him and Jokic, both of those guys have had great seasons. If you want to beat this team you're going to have to keep both of those guys under control to the best of your ability. So it's going to be a challenge. Both Jamal Murray and Jokic are both great players."


CJ McCollum on facing the Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals...

"They're a good team. Coming off a seven-game series, they got some experience last round playing on the road, having to dig deep. They've got a pretty deep team... They've got a lot of good guards. Gary (Harris) can hoop, they got Will (Barton). They got a lot of guys, Beasley, all those guys can play. Look forward to the challenge." 


Moe Harkless on facing the Denver Nuggets...

"Nuggets are a good team, we expect it to be a challenge, a tough battle. They gonna make us work on both ends of the floor. They're a really good defensive team and they move the ball really well offensively. They've got some guys who can do a lot of different things. Now that we know, we've had time to rest, we've got to prepare now."


Al-Farouq Aminu on meeting a division rival in the postseason...

"I'm looking forward to the matchup, I love competing. In that regard, I'm always excited to continue to play. Obviously we're not going home, we've got another shot at reaching for our goals. It should be fun. It's a team that we're very familiar with, a team that, the last couple of years, it was between them and us to go to the playoffs. We've had some good regular-season battles and different things like that, they're in our division. It's just going to be a gun game, a lot of familiarity. That just makes for a good game."


Enes Kanter on trying to slow down Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic...

"He's obviously one of the most skilled big men in the league. He's been doing an unbelievable just to just feed his teammates, keeping them together. We definitely need to do a good job on that, focus on it."

INJURY UPDATES

Trail Blazers

Enes Kanter is questionable for Game 1 with a left shoulder injury. Jusuf Nurkic (left leg) is out for the postseason.

Nuggets

Michael Porter Jr. (lower back) has yet to play during his rookie season and is not expected to appear in the 2019 postseason.

SEASON SERIES NOTES

• Denver won the season series against Portland in 2018-19, 3-1. All four games were decided by single digits.

• In four games against the Nuggets, Damian Lillard averaged 21.3 points (37.1% FG, 28.6% 3-PT, 95.8% FT), 3.8 rebounds and 7.0 assists. Lillard shot 23-of-24 from the free-throw-line against Denver this season.

• CJ McCollum averaged 20.0 points (45.3% FG, 26.3% 3-PT, 100% FT), 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists in three games against the Nuggets this season.

• In four games against the Nuggets, Al-Farouq Aminu averaged 16.0 points (50.0% FG, 31.6% 3-PT, 94.7% FT), 11.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.00 steal. His 16.0 points per game was his highest scoring average against a Western Conference opponent this season.

• Nikola Jokic averaged 25.7 points (62.0% FG, 38.5% 3-PT, 76.9% FT), 9.7 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 1.00 steal in three games against the Trail Blazers this season.

SEASON STATISTICS

Points per game: Trail Blazers 114.7 (6th), Nuggets 110.7 (20th)

Points against per game: Trail Blazers 110.5 (14th), Nuggets 106.7 (6th)

Point differential: Trail Blazers +4.2 (7th) , Nuggets +4.0 (8th)

Field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 46.7 percent (12th), Nuggets 46.6 percent (13th)

Opponent field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 45.7 percent (13th), Nuggets 45.8 percent (15th)

Three-point field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 35.9 percent (8th), Nuggets 35.1 percent (17th)

Opponent three-point field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 35.9 percent (18th), Nuggets 33.9 percent (1st)

Effective field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 52.8 percent (13th), Nuggets 52.7 (15th)

True Shooting Percentage: Trail Blazers 56.8 percent (9th), Nuggets 55.8 (15th)

Rebounds per game: Trail Blazers 48.0 (3rd), Nuggets 46.4 (8th)

Offensive rebounds per game: Trail Blazers 11.8 (3rd), Nuggets 11.9 (2nd)

Rebound differential: Trail Blazers +5.6 (1st), Nuggets +3.9 (4th)

Assists per game: Portland 23.0 (25th), Nuggets 27.4 (2nd)

Turnovers per game: Trail Blazers 13.3 (12th), Nuggets 12.9 (8th)

Pace: Trail Blazers 99.9 (18th), Nuggets 98.5 (26th)

Offensive rating: Trail Blazers 113.6 (3rd), Nuggets 112.1 (7th)

Defensive rating: Trail Blazers 109.5 (16th), Nuggets 108.0 (10th)

Net rating: Trail Blazers +4.1 (7th), Nuggets +4.0 (8th)

PREVIOUS MEETINGS

• November 30, 2018: Denver Nuggets 113, Portland Trail Blazers 112

Portland trailed for almost the entirety of Friday night’s contest, thanks in large part to Denver shooting 52 percent from the field and 60 percent from three the first half.

“Another game we dug a hole in the first half,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Defensively, two games in a row at least that defensively we dug a hole and had to come back in the second half. I was proud of the way we played in the second half, just disappointed in how we got in such a hole in the first half.”

The Trail Blazers did manage to chip away at the lead in the second half, getting it down to six points by the end of the third quarter behind the play of McCollum. And it would take almost the entirety of the fourth quarter, but Portland was able to tie the game at 108-108 with 56.9 seconds to play after a McCollum 15-footer.

The Nuggets would reclaim the lead after two Jamal Murray free throws, though McCollum knotted the game up on the next possession with a coast-to-coast layup with 37.1 seconds to play. The Nuggets missed their next attempt, but were able to corral the offensive rebound and find Gary Harris wide open for a three-pointer to take a 113-100 lead with 16.5 seconds to play.

Rather than chance a foul or a three-pointer, the Nuggets let McCollum drive to the rim for an easy dunk to cut the lead to 113-112 with just over 10 seconds to play.

Murray was called for stepping out of bounds on the ensuing inbound play, though the call was overturned on review. But he would then step out of bounds, a call that would not be overturned, giving Portland a chance to win the game with 5.7 seconds to play.

But despite being Portland’s most effective offensive weapon by far Friday night, McCollum couldn’t get the jumper to fall as time expired.

"Playing from behind takes a lot of energy," said McCollum. "You can't do that, especially against good teams. We've done it against good teams, we've done it against teams under .500. It's catching up to us now. We've got to start games better, we've got to defend a lot better so that we don't have to depend on somebody stepping out of bounds with five seconds left for us to get a chance to even win the game. Even if I make that shot, it still wasn't a good game for us."

• January 19, 2019: Denver Nuggets 116, Portland Trail Blazers 113

Portland put up a valiant effort in a difficult environment. The Nuggets have now won 12 straight home games, and their 18-3 record in the Mile High City is the best home mark in the NBA.

The Trail Blazers raced out to a 17-8 lead, their largest of the game, midway through the first quarter. The Nuggets climbed back and pushed ahead by six, 42-36, early in the second period before the scoreboard settled on 60-58 Trail Blazers at halftime.

After a tight first half that saw six ties and six lead changes, the Nuggets took the first double-digit lead of the night for either team thanks to a 15-5 run that pushed the home team's advantage to 93-83 with 36 seconds to play in the third quarter.

But Portland responded by scoring 11 straight points to take a lead of one early in the fourth, setting up an anxious final period for the home crowd.

After six more lead chances and four more ties, with the end result being a 114-110 lead after a Jamal Murray floater with 30 seconds to play, CJ McCollum, who scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half, hit a corner three that narrowed the lead to a single point at 114-113 with 27.7 seconds remaining.

McCollum fouled Jamal Murray on an offensive rebound attempt on Denver’s ensuing possession. After Murray made both fouls shots, Lillard’s game-tying effort from long distance rimmed off as the buzzer sounded.

"Once we lined up and I saw how they were just kind of lined up around the three-point line -- they knew that we had to get up a three, we didn't have no time to get a quick two and, without timeouts, try to play that game," said Lillard. "I knew it would be tough look but we didn't have no timeouts, we had to get it in and get a shot up. That's pretty much what it was."

• April 5, 2019: Denver Nuggets 119, Portland Trail Blazers 110

The Trail Blazers, despite Seth Curry (left tibia soreness) joining CJ McCollum (left knee muscle strain) and Jusuf Nurkic (broken left leg) on the injured list, gave the Nuggets all they could handle for the better part of Friday’s game. Portland led by as many as 11 in the first quarter, held a lead early in the fourth and trailed by three with just under two minutes to play.

But when you’re playing shorthanded in elevation against the team with the second-best record in the West, you can’t give up extra opportunities. Unfortunately, that’s what the Trail Blazers did, allowing the Nuggets seven offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter on the way to being outscored 9-3 in the final 1:36 to come away with the nine-point loss.

“Their offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter really hurt us,” said Stotts. “We were making a nice little run and that gave them some life. Their bench came up big in the fourth quarter. Three guys off the bench scored 23 off the bench in that quarter. They made some very timely shots. It was a good game, we competed, just didn’t find a way to win it.”

The Blazers were led by Enes Kanter, who went 12-of-17 form the field for 24 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes. The 6-11 center out of Turkey has now scored 20+ points in four consecutive games for the first time in his career.

Rodney Hood, starting his third game in place of McCollum, went 8-of-12 from the field for 17 points to go with three steals, two rebounds and an assist in 34 minutes.

• April 7, 2019: Portland Trail Blazers 115, Denver Nuggets 108

The Nuggets, despite Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and Jamal Murray all sitting out due to "load management," took the fight to the Trail Blazers in the early going. Denver jumped out to an early 12-4 lead, thanks mostly to Gary Harris scoring eight points in the first four minutes.

Portland would eventually get their legs under them, going on a 23-9 run to take a 27-21 lead before Denver shaved that down to 29-25 going into the second quarter.

The Trail Blazers got a boost in the second quarter from Seth Curry, who missed the previous matchup on Friday with left tibia soreness. Curry went 4-of-6 from the field to score nine points in the quarter. Behind Curry, Portland led by as many as 14 before going into the half with a 60-49 advantage.

Both teams returned to their first-quarter play in the third, with the Nuggets shooting 58 percent from the field and 57 percent from three while the Trail Blazers struggled to make shots and hold on to the ball.

It went from bad to worse for the Blazers in the fourth, the Nuggets outscoring Portland 24-10 in the first seven and a half minutes of the quarter to take a 105-98 lead. At that point, it looked as though the Trail Blazers' chances of starting the postseason at the Moda Center were about to decrease dramatically.

But then Lillard earned a trip to the line after being fouled on a three-point attempt, Al-Farouq Aminu got a tip-in and a block that led to a fastbreak layup for Enes Kanter that gave Portland a 109-106 lead. Aminu would get another block, two free throws and a reverse layup in the next minute and a half to push the advantage to eight with just under a minute to play, which would be enough of a cushion to come away with their 51st victory of the season.

NEXT UP:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter