There is no rest for the weary in the NBA playoffs. Just two days after playing an instant classic four overtime thriller, the Denver Nuggets now face the arduous task of playing the Portland Trail Blazers in a must win game 4 in Portland. The resiliency that has been shown by the Nuggets throughout this season once again will be tested. Denver’s two losses have been a story of poor shooting, a funk they’ve had to break out of more than once this postseason. If they’re going to send this series back to the Mile High City they’ll need to be at their best tonight.
They’ll likely need another big performance from Nikola Jokic, who has carried them throughout the post season, but as we’ve seen throughout these playoffs, Nikola needs at least one running mate with him to get it done. Arguably his two best playoff performances (Game 6 against the San Antonio Spurs, Game 3 against the Blazers) have come in losses where no one else really got it going. Yes, Jamal Murray put up 34 points in Game 3, but he took 32 shots on 43% shooting...not great. The Nuggets need to get a full team effort tonight. Tired legs can be no excuse as this is as close to a must win without being an elimination game as you can get.
Who: Denver Nuggets (1-2) at Portland Trail Blazers (2-1)
Where: The Rose Garden. Portland, OR.
When: 5:00 PM MDT
How to Watch/Listen: TNT, TNTDrama.com, the Watch TNT app and Altitude Radio 92.5 FM
Rival Blog: The Amateur Box Out Authority of the NBA... err I mean, Blazer’s Edge
|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), Enes Kanter - probable (shoulder), Jusuf Nurkic - out (leg)
Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Enes Kanter
Alright, we’ve all had a good laugh watching Kanter perform a self own as the softest player in the league by tweeting the refs about being boxed out, but we should not overlook the fact that on the offensive end he’s given the Nuggets and Nikola some troubles. Make no mistake, Kanter is one of the most skilled bigs on the block with the ball in his hand in the NBA. That’s become a bit outdated for skill sets but when you’re in the playoffs and things tend to grind to a halt a lot more often, being able to dump it into the post for a guaranteed good look at two points is a great weapon. Look at the Nuggets, if they could pass the ball into the post with regularity they’d be unstoppable. I’m not looking for another monster triple double out of Nikola tonight, I think it will be far more helpful if he holds Kanter to single digit scoring while just having a standard 22-11-8 Nikola night.
Key thing to watch for: physicality and officiating
No matter where you stand on the whole Kanter thing, one thing is for sure: it’s dominated the conversation the past two days. I wonder what effect that will have on the way the game is called. Ideally none because if we’re going to start encouraging behavior like a guy whining to officials on social media then James Harden is about to take his game to the next level, but it’s a bit naive to think it won’t have an effect at all. I expect the whistle to be tight early on, especially on the block, but that might not work against Denver. It’s not exactly like Portland is sending some puppies down low on their end and repeatedly putting Jokic on the line is a good way to lose momentum and a game.
Opening thought: Gotta believe
We’ve seen this before with Denver, countless number of times this season. The entire year has been a lesson on the never say die mantra and I have to believe that will be the same tonight. Yes, they played a 68 minute basketball game two nights ago and lost. Yes, they are playing in one of the most difficult environments to win a game. Doesn’t matter. This team has shown throughout the year that when their backs are against the wall they will respond including on several occasions in the first round and just like in the first round I believe a key factor is still true: Denver is the more talented team. Talent doesn’t always trump experience as we’ve seen often this postseason, but for the Nuggets it has been enough to get them a win whenever they’ve had to have one.