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Preview: Tied 1-1, Nuggets travel to Portland, face Blazers in a pivotal Game 3

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Will the bad blood from Game 2 boil into Game 3’s all important contest?

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

Late in the fourth quarter of Game 2 between the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers, with the game all but decided, Nikola Jokic pushed Enes Kanter while jockeying for position on a rebound. Kanter fell back into an unsuspecting Torrey Craig, already dawning a face mask and cotton balls up his nose, and knocking Craig to the floor. The ensuing scuffle boiled over due to some frustrations the Nuggets had with Kanter’s hard screens and general thug status during the previous two games. Gary Harris came to Craig’s defense, while Jamal Murray and others left the bench area to have a word or two with the Turkish big man.

No suspensions would result from the incident because a timeout was called, and the Nuggets are lucky for it. Still, a bigger shadow looms over the rest of this playoff series for Denver: how will the Nuggets score with a hobbled Jamal Murray defended by someone taller than him?

The Basics

Who: Portland Trail Blazers (0-1) at Denver Nuggets (1-0)

When: 8:30 PM MST

Where: Moda Center. Portland, OR.

How to watch/listen: ESPN, ESPN.com, the WatchESPN app, and Altitude Radio 92.5

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 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: Maurice Harkless - questionable (sprained ankle), Michael Porter Jr, - out (back)

Key Matchup: the Nuggets versus shooting efficiency

The Blazers made the necessary adjustments in Game 2 to slow down a Nuggets offense that scored 121 points in Game 1. They threw Maurice Harkless on Murray, and Harkless’ lanky, athletic 6’8 frame made life difficult for Murray. They also doubled Jokic more consistently when he had the ball, and Jokic turned the ball over a couple of times after misreading the double. In the end though, the Nuggets could have scored more than the 90 points they had in Game 2 if they made their open shots.

There were many instances, mostly in the 12 point second quarter, in which the Nuggets had wide open shots that just didn’t fall. Take these attempts from Murray:

At least one of those is generally cash, but the Nuggets were completely bogged down by all of the missed jump shots, and it showed when they needed to score most. In the second half, the Nuggets made just 2/12 three-pointers, clearly shaken for some reason.

Here’s the thing: if the Nuggets don’t shoot efficiently, they probably won’t win. Jokic can probably do a bit more as an individual scorer before the double comes, but if the Nuggets aren’t going to hit a higher proportion of shots around him, it just doesn’t matter. Dreadful performances from Murray and Gary Harris aside, Will Barton has yet to show up to the playoffs as a shooter. Monte Morris has not made a three in the playoffs yet. These were supposed to be two of Denver’s biggest weapons, and yet only Malik Beasley has consistently shown up as a shooter and scorer.

The Nuggets are dead in the water if they can’t get shots to fall. The Blazers will simply send more double teams and dare Denver to make shots. I think Denver can win both Game 3 AND 4 if they execute properly and hit a higher proportion of open shots. They played good enough defense against Portland in Games 1 and 2 to make it clearly about the shooting going forward.

Pencil me in for a win tonight if the Nuggets can get 50 combined points at the three-point line and free throw line.