Preview: Denver Nuggets take on Portland Trail Blazers in a all-or-nothing Game 7

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Western Conference semifinals have been a tense, emotional and drama-filled affair, so it’s fitting the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers will decide the series in a Game 7 on Sunday afternoon.

“I expect a real chippy game,” Monte Morris told Nuggets.com. “High energy, do or die to go play Golden State – everyone wants that opportunity. So, I feel like this is going to be an exciting, high-paced game that we have to get up for. “

With Denver playing in its second-consecutive Game 7, the eighth-youngest playoff team in NBA history might have a rare advantage in experience over its opponents. The last time the Nuggets played in a Game 7 was almost three weeks ago whereas the Blazers haven’t played in one since 2003.

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For the Nuggets to advance to their first Western Conference Finals since 2009, the team will need to get back to the formula that was effective in Games 4 and 5 —strong defense and low-post play.

Here are the keys to Game 7:

Keep feeding Millsap:

Paul Millsap had a rare tough night in Game 6. He finished with 17 points, but shot 4 of 15 from the field. Prior to that game, he was playing some of the best basketball of his 13-year career. The 34-year-old was averaging 19 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks on 54.5 percent shooting in the opening five games of the second round. Aside from Game 6, Millsap has been particularly effective as a starter who is staggered off to feature as a go-to-guy when the bench comes in.

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone is confident Millsap will be at his best come Game 7.

“Paul Millsap got great looks [in Game 6], so I’m not giving anyone credit [in slowing him down],” Malone said after Saturday’s practice. “I think Paul got the same looks he got in Games 4 and 5, he just didn’t knock them down. I have no doubt, that he’ll be able to convert and finish those shots tomorrow.”

Millsap converts 1.08 points per post up. That rates better than the best offense in the league at 1.15. The Nuggets will need another big game from their veteran leader.

Get defense back on track:

The Nuggets’ defense is a big reason why they were able to take a 3-2 lead in the semifinals, but things unraveled in Game 6 as the Blazers hit 15 threes on 33 attempts. That can’t happen in Game 7.

In the opening five games of the series, Denver had done a superb job of slowing down Damian Lillard as the guard was hitting only 25.7 percent of his three-pointers. In Game 6, Lillard did a good job of extending his range – five of his six threes were made from 27-feet or farther. The Nuggets will have to extend their defense to ensure that they have a man on him at all times.

Get more from the bench:

The biggest difference in this series has been the performances of the both teams’ benches. Portland reserve Rodney Hood is enjoying a breakout second round against the Nuggets as he’s averaging 16.2 points and shooting 60.4 percent from the floor – including 57.9 percent from downtown. In the first round against the Thunder, Hood averaged only 3.2 points on 27.3 percent shooting. Malone stressed the Nuggets can’t afford to allow Hood to have another big game against his team.

“Rodney Hood, for me, is the MVP of the series,” Malone said. “Damian Lillard is a superstar, you know what you’re going to get with him. CJ McCollum is a potential All-Star, so you know what you’re getting from him…We have to do a better job of guarding [Hood] and accounting for him when he comes in.”

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Hood isn’t the only issue as Denver needs a big offensive game from its bench. Outside of three big performances from Will Barton in Games 3, 4 and 5, the rest of the reserves have been relatively quiet. The bench play was pivotal for the Nuggets in their first round against the Spurs and they’ll need some similar to that level of performance in Game 7.

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