Game Preview: Denver Nuggets look to close out series against Portland Trail Blazers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Once again, the Denver Nuggets find themselves heading into a Game 6 on the road with a 3-2 series lead. Denver’s two playoff series have played out in similar fashion, as the Nuggets also won both Games 4 and 5 in the first round. However, this time Nuggets head coach Michael Malone is looking for a different approach.

"We know going into Portland for Game 6, it’s going to be a really tough game,” Malone said, following the convincing Game 5 victory. “Game 6 in San Antonio, we did not come ready to play, mentally or physically. I hope that we have a much different mindset going into Portland for Game 6.”

Of course, Portland and San Antonio are two vastly different opponents, but both teams were very good at home during the regular season. Although the Nuggets won Game 4 in Portland, they understand that Portland isn’t looking to have their season end on their home court.

The 124-98 victory in Game 5 showcased several key advantages that Denver has had throughout the series. Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokić held down the frontcourt on both ends of the floor, while Denver’s defense continued to make things tough on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

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Here are some keys to a potential close-out Game 6:

1) Continue to exploit frontcourt mismatch: Millsap had the strongest showing of his playoffs in Game 5 as he exploited each defensive option that Portland threw at him. Throughout the series, Millsap has shot better than 62 percent when guarded by Al-Farouq Aminu or Enes Kanter. “Sap [Paul Millsap] has been huge for us,” Gary Harris said. “He’s been huge for us this series. He’s been bringing it offensively, defensively and he helped us get off to a great start today and we were able to follow him up.” Meanwhile, Nikola Jokić has put up big performance after big performance against Portland. His latest outing? 25 points, 19 rebounds and six assists in the thorough Game 5 win. The Trail Blazers appear to be out of options when it comes to stopping Denver’s frontcourt.

2) Strong defense on Lillard and McCollum: Through five games in this series, Lillard hasn’t had the same impact he had against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. The star point guard has only connected on 42.8 percent from the field and just 25 percent from beyond the arc. When guarded by Harris, Lillard has shot 38.9 percent, which drops down to 34.4 percent when he has been guarded by Torrey Craig. Although McCollum has had a better go of things in this series, he has only shot 40.7 percent from the field. "We’ve done a great job of locking into the game plan, trying to make things difficult for them, you know those guys are going to get their shots up and you just have to try and make it as hard as possible,” Harris said. If the Nuggets can continue to have success containing Portland’s star-studded backcourt, it will go a long way in clinching the series victory.

3) Get off to a quick start: With the Nuggets having won the past two games in the series, momentum appears to be on their side heading into Game 6. With the game in Portland, it is important that Denver has a good start to the game, which would give the team confidence and take out the Portland crowd early. In Game 4, Denver was able to go back and forth with Portland for the majority of the first quarter, which didn’t happen in Game 6 against San Antonio in the first round. If the Nuggets want to close out the series on the road, a quick start will do wonders to achieving that goal.

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