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Preview: Denver Nuggets in Portland with their “B” squad to take on Trail Blazers

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After clinching the division, Denver is looking for some rest

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets are division champs. After beating the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night, the Nuggets secured their first division title in nearly a decade and ensured they could finish no worse than a three seed. Now two days later in Portland, Denver appears content to forgo a win in favor of rest, and perhaps hoping the Blazers could help them out along the way. It has already been announced by Altitude TV personality and Nuggets Insider Chris Dempsey that Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and Jamal Murray will not play.

Portland can still finish as high as the three seed, an amicable outcome for the Nuggets given that would keep the Blazers, who Denver has beaten in all three of their matchups this season so far, on the Nuggets side of the playoff bracket while pushing the Houston Rockets, a team Denver has only beat once this year, onto the Golden State Warriors side of bracket, thus ensuring Denver could only face one of either the Warriors or Rockets in the playoffs and it wouldn’t be until the Conference Finals. In order to do that Denver needs Portland to win out, they need Houston to lose a game and the Nuggets themselves have to take care of business in their final two contests. Perhaps a bit playing with fire but the only thing at risk is where game 7 would be played in a Rockets conference semi finals series.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (53-26) at Portland Trail Blazers (50-29)

When: 7:00 PM MDT

Where: The Rose Garden (I don’t care what they actually call it). Portland, OR

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV, AltitudeNOW.com, the AltitudeNOW app and Altitude Radio 92.5FM

Rival blog: Blazer’s edge

Projected Matchups

Position Nuggets Trail Blazers Advantage
Position Nuggets Trail Blazers Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Damian Lillard Blazers
SG Gary Harris CJ McCollum Blazers
SF Torrey Craig Maurice Harkless Even
PF Paul Millsap Al-Farouq Aminu Nuggets
C Nikola Jokic Enes Kanter Nuggets
Bench Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Will Barton, Mason Plumlee Seth Curry, Rodney Hood, Evan Turner, Zach Collins, Meyers Leonard Blazers

Injured players: Michael Porter Jr - out (back), Nikola Jokic - out (rest), Paul Millsap - out (rest), Jamal Murray - out (rest), C.J. McCollum - game time decision (knee), Seth Curry - game time decision (leg), Jusuf Nurkic - out (leg)

Key matchup: Gary Harris vs C.J. McCollum

Interesting that Gary is not one of the players resting as he looks like a guy who needs it more than maybe anyone, but as of the time of writing he is expected to play. Looks Like McCollum will be a go tonight as well. There’s not a ton in the way of strategy on this one, the Nuggets will obviously need a lot of things to go their way if they expect to win, but this should be the marquee matchup of the night. If the Blazers do pull off getting the three seed then the play (and relative health) of these two guys could be key in a playoff series.

Key thing to watch for: Isaiah Thomas

I anticipate Monte Morris getting the start at point guard but wouldn’t be shocked if coach Michael Malone goes with Isaiah as the starter instead. In all likelihood, tonight will be the last minutes IT plays for the Nuggets in a game that hasn’t already been decided. It also is his last chance to shine. Make no mistake, IT is going to be hunting for a big game tonight. This season hasn’t gone the way he hoped and his NBA career may very well hang in the balance in the offseason so he’ll be motivated to make one last impact. It IT goes for 30 tonight would it give some team looking for a veteran point guard a moment to pause? Perhaps, but we know throwing up a stinker could be the nail in the coffin so for me IT’s game tonight is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of anything.

Opening thought: don’t let the rest bother you

Already seeing a lot of takes about the Nuggets punting on the 2 seed. I just don’t see it as the case. I think Denver understands that losing this game gives them the best chance at two outcomes that I assume the Nuggets view as being in their favor. They could slip to the three seed if they lose tonight and are unable to secure a win in Utah our at home against Minnesota. That could very well mean playing the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round which, wether right or wrong, seem to be everyone’s pick for easiest first round opponent. Alternatively, a loss could help Portland secure the three seed and Denver can take care of business in their next two games to remain the two seed, setting up the favorable scenario I mentioned in the open. As I said, the risk if it goes wrong is really minimal and could potentially even be outweighed by the benefit of giving some of their horses a much needed rest.