Denver Nuggets Game Preview: Battle for Northwest Division vs. Blazers

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

There might be four games remaining in the Nuggets’ regular season, but there’s still plenty at stake for Michael Malone’s team.

Denver (52-26) is fighting to keep its hold on second place and seal a division title for the eighth time in its NBA franchise history. It won’t be easy though as the Nuggets start a home and away series against the Portland Trailblazers (50-28) on Friday.

Portland enters the game as one of the hottest teams in the NBA, going 8-2 in its past 10 games. Despite dealing with a spate of injuries, including to stars CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkić (season-ending), the Trailblazers have rallied thanks to outerworldly performances from Damian Lillard and role players stepping up. With that being said, there’s still plenty of reasons why the Nuggets should feel confident heading into Friday’s game at Pepsi Center.

After struggling for weeks, Denver’s offense got back to its best on Wednesday night against the Spurs. More impressively, the defensive improvement shown over the past few weeks remained. It was the best of both worlds for Malone and his coaching staff. The Nuggets also lead the season series 2-0, although the previous encounters were both decided by a combined four points.

Here are some keys to tonight’s game:

Get the ball to Nikola early: Nikola Jokić’s best performance of the season arguably came against the Blazers on Jan. 13, where he poured in 40 points and added 10 rebounds and eight assists. With Nurkić out, it is imperative that the Nuggets feed their All-Star big man at every opportunity they can.

Enes Kanter has filled in admirably for Nurkic, especially in April where he’s averaging 20.5 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks in the first games of the month. While Kanter is a solid rebounder and can be a positive influence on offense, he isn’t known for his impact on defense. This is matchup where the Nuggets can have a significant advantage.

Sharing is caring: The Nuggets had 41 assists on 47 made field goal attempts in their win against the Spurs, showing just how deadly the team can be when they are moving the ball around effectively. However, the focus on playing unselfishly has been a staple of the team’s DNA the entire season.

The Nuggets are second in the league in assists at 27.5 per game and will have plenty of opportunities to keep it going against the visitors on Friday. Portland is second to last in forcing turnovers in the league, averaging 12.4 opponent turnovers a game. If the team can keep the moving ball and avoid unnecessary mistakes, its another area where the home team can have an edge.

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