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Preview: Nuggets look to cool off the surging Trail Blazers

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In a game between two bitter rivals, the short-handed Nuggets will look to strike a blow against the Trail Blazers, who are fighting for a chance to make the postseason.

Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets look to extend their winning streak as they square up against the Portland Trail Blazers, who are currently fighting for a chance to qualify to play in the play-in game as the 9-seed in the Western Conference.

These two teams faced each other in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs last season, in what seems like a lifetime ago. Portland saw their two starting forwards from that team depart in the offseason, with Mo Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu landing with other teams, and replaced them with former first-round pick Zach Collins and former Oklahoma City Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony. Collins suffered an injury, and Anthony has considerably dropped off after a lustrous career with the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, and Thunder, with whom he appeared in a total of 27 playoff games.

Now they find each other in the final game this season between the two teams, with the Nuggets having secured a playoff berth while Jusuf Nurkic and the Trail Blazers battle for a chance to face what will be the heavily-favored Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.

The Basics

Who: Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets

When: 6:00 PM MT

Where: DisneyWorld Bubble

How to Watch: ALTITUDE, NBC SPORTS NORTHWEST, NBA TV CANADA, KKSE 92.5FM/950AM, RIP CITY RADIO 620

Projected Matchups

Projected Lineups

POS POR DEN EDGE
POS POR DEN EDGE
PG Damian Lillard Monte Morris Portland
SG C.J. McCollum Torrey Craig Portland
SF Carmelo Anthony Michael Porter Jr Denver
PF Zach Colllins Paul Millsap Portland
C Jusuf Nurkic Nikola Jokic Denver
BENCH Gary Trent Jr., Anfernee Simons, Hassan Whiteside Jerami Grant, PJ Dozier, Mason Plumlee, Troy Daniels Even

Injuries: The Nuggets starting backcourt and starting small forward, seems important.

Three Things to Watch

Damian Lillard, First-Team All-NBA. Lillard has really become one of the leagues best point guards on offense. He has tremendous range on his jump shot, incredible ballhandling skills, and outstanding vision. He is the total package for a point guard in the modern NBA. The Nuggets have defended him in the past by sending an extra defender at him, coaxing him into passing the ball to a teammate. Even that strategy doesn’t seem as productive anymore, but if the Nuggets don’t want him to score 40 points and crush them, they’ll have to be effective and strategic in their use of that strategy. Nothing else will work.

Can MPJ have a big game? The Nuggets are 2-0 in the bubble when MPJ scores 30 points and has double-digit rebounds — seems like a key to success! With the Nuggets missing so many points with injuries to Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Will Barton, they need their rookie forward to score a ton of points. Thankfully for Nuggets fans, he’s been up to the challenge in their last two games, and has helped carry them to wins. With the opportunity to be guarded by Carmelo Anthony, who can’t move on defense, or Zach Collins, who has to respect his ability to drive, Porter Jr. has another great matchup he can take advantage of. If he can get Collins and Anthony into foul trouble, the Trail Blazers will have to go small with Gary Trent Jr., and then he can just dominate around the rim.

Who wins on the glass? With Nurkic, Collins, and Whiteside, the Trail Blazers have some Tall Boys of their own that they can stick near the rim to help extend offensive possessions and close out a defensive possession. Those guys have the tools to make things really difficult for the Nuggets around the rim, and the last thing the Nuggets need is to get beat there or have Jokic get into foul trouble. If Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee, and Michael Porter Jr. can eliminate the advantage the second Trail Blazers big has, then the Nuggets will have a much easier time keeping things competitive.

Prediction

Denver Nuggets 128 - Portland Trail Blazers 123