Game Preview: Nuggets Conclude Season Series Against Trail Blazers
The Denver Nuggets have achieved several milestones this season. In addition to simply clinching a playoff spot for the first time since 2013, Denver has won the Northwest division for the first time since 2010 and will enjoy homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The latter two milestones were achieved when the Nuggets defeated the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday. Now, the two teams will wrap up the season series in Portland on Sunday.
After struggling on the offensive end over the past two weeks, the Nuggets (53-26) have responded with two strong wins over Western Conference playoff teams this week. Ball movement was the key in turning things around offensively, as Denver posted 68 assists over the past two games.
The Trail Blazers (50-29) are still fighting for playoff seeding, as they are 1.5 games back of the Houston Rockets for the three seed, but also sit just one-game ahead of the Utah Jazz for the fourth seed. Despite losing C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkić to injuries in recent weeks, Portland has continued to have success, going 8-2 over its last 10 games.
The Nuggets have clinched the season series against the Trail Blazers, having won the first three matchups this season. Overall, Denver has won six straight games over Portland dating back to last season.
Here are some keys to the game:
Contain Damian Lillard: The Nuggets did a great job guarding Lillard in Friday’s win, as the All-Star point guard was limited to just 14 points on 3-of-14 shooting. “I thought Gary and Torrey, that tandem was phenomenal in guarding Damian Lillard,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “I think Torrey Craig deserves the game ball. He was phenomenal, his defense, his offense, everything he did out there." Without McCollum and Nurkić, Denver should find success again by focusing on Lillard.
Control the paint: Despite Nurkic’s absence, Portland has still found success attacking teams in the paint and on the boards, mainly due to their mid-season pickup of Enes Kanter. Kanter scored 24 points on Friday and grabbed five offensive rebounds, as he continued to give Denver fits in the post. As the Nuggets made a comeback in the fourth quarter, they were able to limit Kanter’s effectiveness and outrebounded Portland 14-6 while they grabbed seven offensive rebounds of their own.
Don’t overextend: Although the Nuggets haven’t locked-in the second seed yet, they do know that they will have homecourt advantage in the first round, making it more of a priority to rest key players during the final three games of the season. The final three games of the regular season provide a good opportunity to iron out some kinks on both ends of the floor, build up consistency and rest up for the upcoming playoff run, and that all starts Sunday in Portland.
The game will tip at 7 p.m. MT and will air on Altitude TV and the AltitudeNOW app. Fans can listen on Altitude Radio, 92.5 FM.