Game 3 Preview: Denver Nuggets aim to steal road win vs. Trail Blazers

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

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The Denver Nuggets will look to quickly move on from Game 2 when they travel to the Moda Center to take on the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals Friday night.

There were plenty of encouraging signs from Michael Malone’s team, especially on defense and rebounding. Portland’s superstar Damian Lillard was held to just 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting and Denver beat out the visitors on the glass 58-47. More impressively, the hosts held a 23-7 edge in offensive rebounds.

Although the Nuggets lost on Wednesday night, the team will be encouraged by its 6-3 overall record against Portland over the past two seasons.

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Here are the three keys of the game:

Take better shots

The Nuggets had plenty of open looks in Game 2, but settled for too many long distance shots as the team shot 6 of 29 from downtown. If the Trail Blazers choose to double-team Nikola Jokić as often as they did in Game 2, there should be a lot of opportunities for other players to take advantage. The key is to find efficient shots as opposed to launching up threes. Malone alluded to it after Game 2.

“We were getting such open looks that I understand our players shooting the shot, but when you’re not having a night where you’re making shots consistently, you got to attack the basket." Malone said.

Build on defensive and rebounding success

The Nuggets success in guarding Lillard and CJ McCollum is a big reason behind the team’s record against the Trail Blazers over the past two seasons. The team is effective in cutting out three-point opportunities for both players as Lillard shot 29.7 percent in that time frame and McCollum is converting at a 29.6 rate. It continued in Game 2. Portland’s star backcourt was held to 4 of 17 from behind the arc on Wednesday and Malone’s team has to keep it up on Friday.

Portland’s role players, like Enes Kanter and Rodney Hood, have stepped up in this series, but they can’t be expected to continue their current combined average of 36 points a night.

Malone will also be encouraged by the team’s showing on the boards. After being outrebounded in several postseason games in first round and beat on the glass in Game 1 (a 40-34 edge), the Nuggets wouldn’t be denied in Game 2. While a lot of the offensive rebounds obviously came from a poor shooting night overall, it is a positive to see the effort to try to get second or even third chances at the rim.

Bench unit has to get back to its best

Entering the semifinals, the Nuggets were expected to have an advantage when it came to their reserve unit. In the regular season, Denver’s was 13th in bench scoring while Portland was 18th. So far, the team has had mixed results in that area. Mason Plumlee has rebounded from his struggles against the Spurs, averaging 6.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks in the first two games of the series.

Overall, Denver’s bench is averaging 27.0 points per game over the past two games, which is third among the remaining teams in the postseason, but the unit is shooting 34.5 percent during that span. It’s an area the team will need to improve if it wants to secure a Game 3 win in Portland.

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