Game 5 Preview: Denver Nuggets look to regain series lead vs. Trail Blazers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

An extended, two-day break between games and a return to the comforts of Ball Arena may be just what the Denver Nuggets need following a 115-95 loss in Game 4 over the weekend.

Although the Nuggets withstood an early blow from Portland in the first half and kept the deficit within 10 points throughout the first 24 minutes, the Trail Blazers blew the game open early in the third quarter and never looked back.

MORE: Takeaways from Game 4 loss

Denver’s offense went ice cold Saturday, finishing at 34 percent shooting from the field and 29.5 percent from beyond the arc. Even Nikola Jokić couldn’t muster his usual brilliance, finishing with 16 points and nine rebounds on 7-of-18 shooting from the field.

Meanwhile, Portland was led by Norman Powell (29 points on 11-of-15 shooting) and C.J. McCollum (21 points and eight assists). The Trail Blazers shot an even 50 percent from the field and at one point held a 33-point lead.

Denver must now regroup and defend homecourt in a crucial Game 5 Tuesday.

Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić

Injury report:

JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT ACL SURGERY. OUT.

WILL BARTON III – RIGHT HAMSTRING STRAIN. OUT.

P.J. DOZIER – RIGHT ADDUCTOR STRAIN. OUT.

TUNE-IN: 7 p.m. MT, NBATV and Altitude, 92.5FM

Key matchup: Michael Porter Jr. vs. Norman Powell

The Nuggets will not win this series without Porter Jr. producing as he did in the regular season, especially his production during the second half of the season.

Following a three-point outing Saturday in which Porter Jr. attempted just three shots, the 22-year-old has scored less than 19 points in each of the past three games in the series, bringing his average down to 15.3 points per game on 43.6 percent shooting from the field in the first round.

Portland has thrown multiple bodies at Porter Jr. throughout the series and has increased the physicality to make the sophomore forward uncomfortable getting into actions and positions on the floor. However, as seen regularly since the All-Star break, all it takes is one hot stretch of shooting for Porter Jr. to take over a game, which is exactly what the Nuggets will need Tuesday.

On the other end, Powell has stepped up as a quality third option for Portland throughout this series, averaging 18 points per game on 53 percent shooting from the field and 39.6 percent from beyond the arc.

Denver will need to provide multiple efforts defensively to limit Powell’s effectiveness, as it’s nearly impossible to stop a Portland offense with all three of Powell, McCollum, and Damian Lillard producing at high levels.

Continue to attack the offensive glass

If there is an area Denver has had sustained success throughout this series, it’s on the offensive glass.

Throughout the first four games, the Nuggets have posted a 30.5 offensive rebound percentage, the fourth-highest percentage among the playoff teams. Overall, Denver has a 47-38 advantage over Portland in offensive rebounds throughout the series, which has allowed the Nuggets offense to keep up with Portland’s high-scoring unit.

The Nuggets were a dominant rebounding team on both ends of the floor during the regular season, which has carried over to the playoffs. Following a demoralizing Game 4 loss, head coach Michael Malone will likely stress the importance of making multiple efforts on the glass, so look for Denver to come out and attack the boards.

One other area to keep an eye on is the battle between the second units, as Portland has opted to go to a small-ball unit with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Carmelo Anthony making up the backup frontcourt. Denver has continued to rely on the JaMychal Green/Paul Millsap pairing on the second unit, which could allow that duo to clean up on the glass.

Attack the basket

Throughout the regular season, the Nuggets’ offense wasn’t built around consistent trips inside the paint and shots around the rim. However, Denver’s offense has been fueled by rim attacks throughout the first round, as the Nuggets have attempted 34.4 percent of their total shot attempts from within four feet of the rim, the fifth-highest rate among the playoff teams.

Although Denver hasn’t shot lights out on those attempts (66.1 percent, tied for the ninth-highest percentage in the playoffs), it has allowed Denver’s offense to keep pace with Portland’s while also providing quality opportunities for offensive rebounds.

With Portland’s defense most vulnerable in the backcourt, Denver must continue to be aggressive in driving downhill to create drive-and-kick opportunities or easy looks around the rim. Those efforts coupled with Nikola Jokić having a bounceback game inside the paint should go a long way in helped Denver’s offense recover from Saturday's drought.

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