Game 6 Preview: Denver Nuggets look to close out series vs. Trail Blazers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Have you recovered yet?

Tuesday’s 147-140, double-overtime victory for the Denver Nuggets certainly increased heart rates and stress across both teams and their fan bases. However, all focus now shifts to Thursday’s Game 6 in Portland as the Trail Blazers look to avoid elimination.

Denver was led by Nikola Jokić (38 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists), while Monte Morris (career-high 28 points) and Michael Porter Jr. (26 points and 12 rebounds) chipped in to support the MVP frontrunner.

MORE: Takeaways from Game 5 win

The Nuggets also withstood one of the best performances in NBA Playoffs history, as Damian Lillard dropped 55 points and 10 assists on 17-of-24 shooting from the field, including 12-of-17 from beyond the arc, which set a record for made 3-pointers in a playoff game.

Although the Nuggets won a game for the ages Tuesday, they will have to be better Thursday if they want to close this first-round series in Portland.

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: 6 p.m. MT, TNT and Altitude TV, 92.5FM

Key matchup: Nikola Jokić vs. Jusuf Nurkić

Throughout this series, Nurkić has done a solid job in making life difficult for Jokić when the two have matched up. According to the NBA’s tracking data, Jokić has shot 45.6 percent when guarded by his former teammate, compared to 52.2 percent when defended by Enes Kanter and 61.9 percent when guarded by Robert Covington.

Unfortunately for Portland, Nurkić has had trouble staying on the floor throughout the series, as he has fouled out in three of the first five games. When Nurkic isn’t available, it has forced Portland to go with Kanter or small-ball lineups that Jokić can attack, which often results in consistent buckets for the Serbian big man or easy opportunities for teammates following a double-team.

If Jokić can be aggressive out of the gate Thursday and get in a rhythm or put Nurkić in foul trouble, it will go a long way in helping Denver wrap up the series on the road.

How to stop (Dame) time?

Tuesday’s performance from Lillard will be talked about for years.

Lillard became the first player in NBA history to score 55 points and dish out 10 assists in a playoff game, while as mentioned earlier, his 12 3-pointers set a record for a playoff game.

The question now for the Nuggets is how to limit Lillard’s damage Thursday and force others to beat them. Portland’s All-NBA candidate did most of the damage Tuesday as his teammates struggled to hit shots consistently.

The question of when to trap, double-team, or play one-on-one defense against the scorching Lillard will continue to be asked each time he brings the ball up the floor. The key for Denver is to present Lillard with multiple defenders and coverages throughout the game, thus making him process new situations and make different decisions throughout a game.

Can Denver’s second unit continue to produce?

Monte Morris outscored Portland’s entire bench 28-22 Tuesday, which should say a lot about the edge Denver had when both teams went to their reserves.

Portland has shortened its rotation to eight players for the most part, while Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has continued to rely on nine players, especially Morris, JaMychal Green, and Paul Millsap.

If the Nuggets starters can stay afloat to begin the first and third quarters, Denver should feel good about its chances to stay in the game or build on a lead when both teams go to their second units.

Morris has provided a huge spark for Denver in his third playoff appearance by knocking down shots, providing steady playmaking, and attacking downhill to get to the free-throw line or for easy buckets inside the paint. Meanwhile, Green and Millsap have provided defensive versatility and a presence on the glass, especially when Portland moves to small-ball lineups.

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