Denver Nuggets prepare for second Game 7 with more experience on their side

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

A constant storyline throughout the postseason has been the Denver Nuggets’ lack of playoff experience. It was brought up before Denver took on the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and continued to be addressed each time this Nuggets squad faced a “first” in the playoffs. From Game 1 all the way up to Game 7, questions surrounded Denver and how the team would respond to the high-pressure situations.

So far, the Nuggets have passed with flying colors as they have handled the pressure and expectations at each test. Game 7 against one of the most experienced and respected coaches in NBA history? Check. Winning two Game 4s on the road while down 2-1 in a series? Check. Win Two Game 7s in one playoff appearance? Well, Denver has a chance to achieve that on Sunday.

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After a tough Game 6 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Nuggets find themselves in familiar territory. Denver’s second-round series has played out in extremely similar fashion to the first-round series against San Antonio. The Nuggets won Games 4 and 5 in both series but couldn’t close out their opponent in a road Game 6, which has ultimately led to the second Game 7 at Pepsi Center this season.

“We lost in the first series at home and we lost in the second series at home,” Nuggets center Nikola Jokić said. We also beat them. It means a lot; If we can pick, we’re going to play game 7 at our home. I think mostly it’s who brings the energy on the floor.”

Unlike their 90-86 victory against the Spurs in Game 7 less than two weeks ago, Denver comes into Sunday’s matchup with more experience under its belt and ironically enough, more Game 7 experience than many players on Portland’s roster. The Trail Blazers haven’t been in a Game 7 since 2003, and the majority of their current rotation has never participated in the high-stakes, win-or-go-home situation. Meanwhile, the Nuggets know exactly what Game 7 feels like and are confident that their experience and homecourt advantage will serve them well once again.

“It’s weird, everyone keeps talking about experience, and I just want to say that we’ve been here before,” Nuggets guard Jamal Murray said. “We’ll go back home, regroup like we did for San Antonio, come back with energy and…just be ready to play”.

Against San Antonio, Denver relied on its defense to close out Game 7, as the Spurs shot just 36.5 percent from the field and 26.1 percent from three. Despite the fact that the Nuggets also shot below 40 percent from the field and connected on just 10 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc, their defense made crucial stops in the win.

Nikola Jokić posted one of his four postseason triple-doubles in that defense-oriented contest, and the Nuggets will once again rely on his offensive prowess to lead the way on Sunday. Luckily for Denver, their All-Star big man hasn’t been at all fazed by the bright lights of the playoffs.

“No (nerves), I just felt something different the first game of the playoffs because it was something different,” Jokić said when asked about any nerves he faced before his first Game 7. “Just because we call it the playoffs. Besides that, everything else is the same.”

Denver finished the regular season with a 34-7 record at Pepsi Center and has gone 5-2 at home during the playoffs. A convincing win in Game 5 should give Denver confidence heading into Game 7 on Sunday as both teams look to advance to the Conference Finals. The Nuggets are hoping to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 2009, while a win would return the Trail Blazers to the conference finals for the first time since 2000.

“Now we go home and [we] have the best homecourt advantage in the NBA,” Nuggets head coach Malone said following Game 6. “We’re going to rely on that once again to try to close out Game 7.”

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