The Denver Nuggets have shown signs of growing up and maturing during their first playoff run with this particular group. Against the San Antonio Spurs, Denver had a demoralizing first seven quarters of the series, only to bounce back, show some grit, and clinch a Game 7 victory on their home floor. Against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 just two days later, the Nuggets put together an excellent performance, captained by Nikola Jokic and his 37 points.
After winning Game 1 to go up 1-0 in the series, the Nuggets will look to do the same in Game 2. One of the most important playoff lessons they learned was how difficult a series can be after giving up home court advantage. Denver losing Game 1 to San Antonio put them behind the eight ball until Game 4 when they stole it back in a road victory. Perhaps this time around, the Nuggets will come out with the same calm urgency they possessed in their first game against the Blazers, because going up 2-0 in the series would be massive.
On the other side, the Blazers will not win this series unless they steal a game on the road, and the two best opportunities for them to do so are these first two games. Denver likely surprised them with the effort and execution that was put forth, but the same excuse can’t be had twice. The Blazers will make adjustments to try and slow down the Jamal Murray-Nikola Jokic two-man game. It’s pretty clear that Enes Kanter defending Jokic isn’t the answer, so look for Portland to change things up tonight. Whatever happens, Damian Lillard will be ready. After 39 points in Game 1, don’t be surprised if he increases his shot attempts in Game 2. He put up 21 shots and 13 free throw attempts, but I could see him cracking 30 shots in Game 2, depending on how the Nuggets cover the high pick and roll.
Who: Portland Trail Blazers (0-1) at Denver Nuggets (1-0)
When: 7:00 PM MST
Where: The Can. Denver, CO.
Rival Blog: Blazer’s Edge
|PG||Jamal Murray||Damian Lillard||Blazers|
|SG||Gary Harris||CJ McCollum||Even|
|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||Even|
Injuries: Michael Porter Jr. - out (back), Jusuf Nurkic - out (leg)
Key Matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Damian Lillard
It seems quite simple, but the Blazers and Nuggets are trying to figure out how to limit the opposing star’s production in any way they can. The Nuggets have more insulation around Jokic right now though, so even if he struggles a bit, the Nuggets can still win. If Lillard struggles, I find it hard to believe that the Blazers would be competitive in any contest, given how many shots he takes and how responsible he is for others on top of that.
The Blazers are going to switch up their coverage on Nikola Jokic tonight. They might decide to slide Al-Farouq Aminu onto him for the majority of the game. Or they could defend Jamal Murray with Moe Harkless in order to switch ball screens for most of the game. Even still, they could try and hard double Jokic to get the ball out of his hands and force others to make shots.
Either way, the Blazers are going to bring their best counterpunch at Jokic in Game 2. If the Nuggets survive that, it bodes well for the rest of this playoff series.
Key number: 1
That’s the amount of turnovers Jamal Murray had in Game 1 against the Blazers on Monday night. Can you remember the one I’m talking about? Malik Beasley sure can.
Other than a play that was clearly a freak accident, Murray was masterful with his decision making on Monday night. Seven of his assists went to Jokic, mostly on the pick and roll or pick and pop, and the two-man game between the two young stars was on full display all night.
Can Murray recreate his excellent decision making in Game 2? How will the Blazers switch up their coverage on him going forward? According to the NBA.com matchup data, Damian Lillard spent 37 possessions as Murray’s primary defender last night, allowing 13 points and 5 assists. None of the other players did much better, but expect Moe Harkless to spend some quality time on him while Lillard covers Torrey Craig or Malik Beasley going forward.
Opening thought: This is where Michael Malone makes his money
I thought Malone made some good and bad decisions in Game 1. The rotations of Jamal Murray in the second quarter and Paul Millsap in the fourth quarter were questionable, but in the end, a win is a win, and it’s hard to focus too intently on the quibbles rather than seeing the bigger picture.
My question in this one is how will Malone and company respond to a counterpunch by Terry Stotts and the Blazers. It’s clear that Portland can’t defend Jokic straight up. They need to try something out of the box. Will Malone and the Nuggets be ready for it? How quickly will they adjust before the desired effect on the Jokic-Murray two-man game causes Denver to drop a game at home?
So far, most of my questions about Malone have been answered. I gave him an A-minus in the Spurs series as he helped Denver navigate some poor shooting struggles and continued to put them in the best chance to succeed. This is the next step: how can Denver get ahead of the craziness and ensure they go up 2-0 in this series?
Let’s see what happens. I have high hopes.
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