Nikola Jokić, Paul Millsap showcase Nuggets' frontcourt advantage in Game 1 vs. Blazers

Prior to Game 1, Jamal Murray was asked if the Denver Nuggets had any noticeable advantages over the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference semifinals. The point guard paused, grinned and said, “I think Joker [Nikola Jokić] has a [good] matchup.”  His words would prove prophetic hours later.  Jokić was a force in the opening game of the second round series, going for 37 points, nine boards and six assists on 61.1 percent shooting. Despite several different coverages, Portland had no answer for Denver’s Serbian All-Star and the home team won 121-113.  “He’s a sponge, he picks it up. He sees how people are playing him and guarding him, and he makes the right play every time,” Paul Millsap said of Jokić after Game 1. “That’s what’s great about him, is he doesn’t force anything. He’s going to make the right reads, he’s like a quarterback out there. I consider him like a Tom Brady.  “He’s always going to pick you apart and make the right reads. Commend him for doing that at this stage in his career.” Now, Brady might not be the most popular figure in the Mile High City – or outside of New England – but Millsap’s point was spot on. Jokić doesn’t force plays, he finds areas to exploit and takes advantage of it. It’s something he takes pride in.  “I think I’m capable of reading those defenses,” Jokic said confidently after Game 1.  With the Trail Blazers dealing with a season-ending injury to starting center Jusuf Nurkić and Enes Kanter nursing a bum shoulder, the team’s frontcourt options are limited. It’s an area the Nuggets were able to find the edge in on Monday night. As good as Jokić was in the opening game, Millsap made several significant plays in Game 1.  Portland’s star guard Damian Lillard pointed out the difficulties in guarding the veteran power forward in Tuesday’s media availability.  “First of all, he had guys on an island,” Lillard said. “Anytime you get a guy that’s as good as him on island, it’s going to be tough to stop him.”  Millsap poured in 10 points in the first quarter en route to a 19-point, six-rebound night against the Blazers. The success the Nuggets’ frontcourt is having isn’t an aberration, it’s was a factor in the regular season as well. The pair averaged 45 points, 17.4 rebounds and shot 62.5 percent from the field against Portland in the season series, where Denver went 3-1.  GAME 2 TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW In Game 1, the visitors tried to utilize Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless on him with mixed results. In Game 2, the team might try to switch things up by putting Kanter on Millsap. The hope is the Turkish center’s familiarity with Millsap, they were teammates for two years, might be a benefit.  “I know his game, I would definitely feel comfortable going against him,” Kanter said on Tuesday.  Still, considering Kanter’s injury and his current defensive plus-minus is -1.6, the Nuggets will likely still have the edge in the frontcourt heading into Game 2.  “We’ve been playing inside-out all year, that’s where our strengths come from,” Millsap said. “For us to be effective, we’ve got to establish something down low, inside-out. I think when we do that and start games off like that, guys start hitting shots and the rhythm is there. It’s up to us set the tone.”