Preview: Denver Nuggets conclude regular season vs. Trail Blazers
The Denver Nuggets are ending the 2020-21 season on a high note, with a third-straight win coming over the Detroit Pistons Friday night.
Denver (47-24) was led by Nikola Jokić, who finished with his 16th triple-double of the season (20 points, 15 rebounds, 11 assists). Meanwhile, Markus Howard dropped a career-high 20 points in his first NBA start.
The Nuggets will end the regular season in Portland Sunday in a game that may have significant implications for playoff positioning for both teams.
Portland (41-30) has surged in recent weeks, going 8-2 in its last 10 games. The Trail Blazers have once again been fueled by elite offense, ranking second in offensive rating on the season, compared to 29th in defensive rating.
Denver won the first two meetings of the season series, including a dramatic 106-105 victory back on April 21.
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, Altitude TV and 92.5FM
Key matchup: Nikola Jokić vs. Jusuf Nurkić
Although it remains to be seen just how much Jokić will play Sunday, it is always an intriguing matchup when these two former teammates square off.
Sunday’s game marks the finale of an MVP-caliber season from the Serbian big man, who has continued to produce down the stretch of the regular season. Jokić averaged 27.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game in his last 10 contests.
Nurkić has also stepped up his production as of late as Portland looks to solidify its playoff positioning, averaging 13.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game over his last 10 games.
In two games against Portland this season, Jokić has become a deadly scorer, averaging 33 points per game.
Defend the 3-point line
When it comes to defending Portland’s offense, focusing on the 3-point line is a key ingredient for success.
41.7 percent of the Trail Blazers’ shot attempts this season have come from beyond the arc, which is the second-highest frequency in the league and well over the league average of 36.1 percent.
Meanwhile, Portland ranks in the bottom 10 in the frequency of shot attempts coming at the rim and from the mid-range, thus making the 3-point line a key priority for the Trail Blazers. What makes Portland so dangerous in this regard is that it’s not just the number of attempts that can strike fear in a defense, as the Trail Blazers have hit 39.1 percent from beyond the arc this season, which ranks fifth in the league this season (per Cleaning the Glass).
Although teams haven’t hit an elite percentage of their 3-point attempts against Denver (36.8 percent, which ranks 12th in the league), the Nuggets have been vulnerable when it relates to giving up 3-point attempts, as they rank 24th in their opponent’s frequency of 3-point attempts. Allowing Portland to get comfortable beyond the arc will not be a recipe for success Sunday.
Attack the offensive glass
As mentioned earlier, Portland has struggled mightily on the defensive end this season. Several factors have gone into those struggles, but a key area the Nuggets can look to exploit is on the glass.
Although the Trail Blazers have had success on the offensive glass, that hasn’t translated on the other end of the floor, as Portland ranks 21st in opponent offensive rebound percentage. Meanwhile, Denver ranks second in offensive rebound percentage at 28.5 percent.
The Nuggets won this battle on the offensive glass in both meetings this season, including a 16-9 advantage in their victory back in April.
Denver may use Sunday’s game to give opportunities to younger players but continuing to focus on the offensive glass will pay dividends for the Nuggets Sunday and moving forward into the playoffs.