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Game Preview: Nuggets Look to Clinch Season Series Over Portland
And now, we’ve come to the prelude to the Final Act.
Yet, few preludes are as important as this one.
For the past week, talk from prognosticators has been singularly focused on Wednesday night’s ‘winner gets in the playoffs’ season finale against the Minnesota Timberwolves. But that game means little-to-nothing if the Nuggets don’t set it up properly by beating the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday.
That’s because it’s a division game. The reason the Nuggets control their own fate is chiefly because if they win all of their division games that’s what will break a tie with Minnesota in their favor for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. But they have to get to that point by beating the Trail Blazers, one of the most formidable teams in the Northwest Division.
The Nuggets have already beaten Portland twice. And they’ve been good defensively in doing so. Overall, they are playing some of their most effective basketball in keeping themselves alive in the playoff race with a season-high five straight victories.
“I think we’re playing our best overall basketball,” forward Paul Millsap said. “Not necessarily the best offense that we’ve played all year. Not necessarily the best defense. But to be a good team we’ve got to have balance, and I think now, coming down the stretch, we have good balance, offense and defense.”
What do the Nuggets need to do to secure a must-have game? Start with these things…
Keep the defense solid: This is not a comment on the season as a whole, but in the three games against the Trail Blazers this season. In those games, in which the Nuggets have won two, they have held Portland 11 points under its season average, three 3-point makes under its season average, and just over one more turnover over its season average. The Nuggets have been able to buckle down defensively on the Blazers arguably better than against any other team this season. They’ll need more of that tonight.
Show up in the fourth: During this season-high five-game win streak, the Nuggets are averaging 27.6 points in the fourth quarter, which, by percentage points, is the second-most they’re averaging of any quarter. Against Portland, being locked-in in the fourth quarter is paramount because they are up against Damian Lillard, one of the NBA’s most clutch fourth-quarter performers.
Get the crowd involved: This is the Nuggets’ regular season home finale, and by all accounts it will be a packed house at the Pepsi Center. The home crowd will desperately want to get involved to help the team get a big victory. So, early energy is a must. Logging a couple of emotional plays in the first quarter will help. The Nuggets are a top-five home team in the NBA. Getting the fans loud early will only help their cause.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter