Denver Nuggets 116, Portland Trail Blazers 132: Three takeaways

The Nuggets wrapped up their final game of the season with a 132-116 loss to the Trail Blazers, but they managed to limit minutes for several key players in the second half. That can count as a small victory for Michael Malone and his staff ahead of next weekend's playoffs.

With the Nuggets having secured homecourt advantage in the opening round of the playoff, there were minimal implications for the team heading into its Sunday night matchup. The expected starting five of Facundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Jokić played the opening two quarters of the contest. In the second half, with Denver facing a 72-55 deficit, only Rivers would play in the second half.

Jokić finished an MVP-caliber regular season with an impressive 21 points in just 17 minutes of action, shooting 52.9 percent. CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 24 points and five assists.

The result means Denver will face Portland once again in the playoffs, this time in the opening round. The Nuggets and Trail Blazers clashed in a memorable seven-game series in the 2019 Western Conference semifinals, a matchup that heartbreakingly ended Denver’s impressive run in those playoffs. With several players remaining from that team, including Jokić, Paul Millsap, and Monte Morris. Jamal Murray (out for the rest of this season with an ACL injury) and Michael Porter Jr. (injury recovery) were also a part of that team. It is a series defeat that happened just two years ago, so one can bet this Nuggets’ team will be raring to go on the weekend of May 22nd.

The Nuggets will now await news of when their opening matchup will take place, with the team expected to play on either May 22nd or 23rd.

Here are the takeaways:

Reserve big men solid

There weren’t many positive takeaways to report from an x-point defeat, but JaMychal Green took a step forward in an otherwise woeful outing for Denver. The reserve forward hit 3 of 4 from downtown en route to a 11-point night. This breaks a mini-slump for Green in May. The 30-year-old forward was averaging 6.9 points on 35.7 percent shooting, including 27.6 percent from three. Green’s ability to provide floor spacing and timely plays on defense could be a huge difference-maker in the playoffs. Sunday’s performance might provide a slight confidence boost for the veteran.

Paul Millsap also had a solid night for Malone’s team, posting 12 points and two assists in the loss. While it might not show on the stat sheet, the 36-year-old has been showing some dribble moves of late. He had a nice dime to Markus Howard late in the third quarter after driving the ball from half-court.

Finally, JaVale McGee brought the energy with a nine-point, eight-rebound, two-block night.

Markus continues rise

Markus Howard missed his first two shots. He would show why he is a player to watch in the future by remaining aggressive and finishing with a new career-high of 23 points while shooting 50 percent from three. Howard would also add a season-high in boards with four.

Howard is averaging 19.3 points per game in the Nuggets’ final three games of the season.

Monte builds on fitness

Monte Morris played just 18 minutes, but he continued to edge closer to his best. The reserve put up eight points and four dimes while shooting 57.1 percent against the Blazers.

Morris had a dazzling drive in the second quarter where he dribbled past three defenders to finish. The reserve guard has averaged 9.6 points and 3.0 assists while shooting 50.1 percent against the Blazers throughout his career and his production could be a key asset in the first-round series against Portland