It seems like a lifetime ago, but it has been just two years since the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers squared off in a playoff series. After missing the playoff the previous five years, the Nuggets finally returned to the postseason back in 2019 with a first round series against the San Antonio Spurs. After downing the Spurs in seven games, the Nuggets matched up against Portland in the second round.
Denver was the 2-seed and Portland was the 3-seed as both teams were looking for a shot to play the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. After a back and fourth series, the Trail Blazers eliminated the Nuggets at Pepsi Center in Game 7 to earn a date with Golden State in the next round.
At the time, it seemed like the sky was falling as the Nuggets looked to have all the potential to make a deep playoff run. What it ended up being was a perfect thing cause it inspired the Nuggets to be better next time they were in that position.
That is exactly what happened as the Nuggets made the Western Conference Finals last season after upsetting the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round that plagued them just the season before. It was another step in the right direction for a Nuggets team that looks poised to push for their first title in franchise history.
Now, that would obviously be A LOT easier if Jamal Murray hadn't torn his ACL just over a month ago. The Nuggets playoff hero from a season ago won't be on the floor when they square off against Portland and that is a tough pill to swallow. Murray is the heartbeat of this team and it’s tough seeing the Nuggets win a championship without him, but the resiliency Denver has showcased these past few weeks provides some optimism.
The Nuggets are 13-5 since Murray went down and they also have dealt with Monte Morris, Will Barton III, and PJ Dozier missing most of those games as well. Morris is good to go for the Portland series, while we are still waiting to see on Barton. It does not look like Dozier will be able to return for this series as Michael Malone said after practice the other day that Dozier is still a ways away from returning.
Denver is getting healthier though and that is incredibly important as they face a Portland team that is on a roll. The Trail Blazers have won 10 of their last 12 games and are arguably the hottest team in the NBA. It will be tough to slow down the two headed monster of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but luckily for the Nuggets they have the leagues MVP in Nikola Jokic to lead the way for them.
Who: Denver Nuggets (3 seed) vs Portland Trail Blazers (6 seed)
When: 8:30 p.m. MST
Where: Ball Arena
How to watch/listen: ESPN, AltitudeTV where available, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers, 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio
Rival Blog: Blazer’s Edge
Projected Starting Lineups:
POR: PG Damian Lillard, SG C.J. McCollum, SF Norman Powell, PF Robert Covington, C Jusuf Nurkic
DEN: PG Facundo Campazzo, SG Monte Morris or Austin Rivers, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Michael Porter Jr., C Nikola Jokic
Portland: Zach Collins - OUT (ankle)
Denver: Austin Rivers - QUESTIONABLE (illness), Will Barton III - OUT (right hamstring strain), PJ Dozier (right adductor strain), Jamal Murray - OUT (left ACL surgery)
Three things to watch:
Can the Nuggets slow down the Trail Blazers big two in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum?
This is the biggest question and it’s something the Nuggets have to do if they want to be successful. A lot of this is going to fall on the shoulders on Facu Campazzo, who is going to match up against at least one of these guys. Austin Rivers, Monte Morris, and Aaron Gordon are three others players that could be called upon to try and slow them down.
Slowing them down is all the Nuggets really have to do because there is no way of stopping them completely. Limiting the damage will be key to the Nuggets success and it is something the four guys mentioned above could certainly do. It won't be easy and it’s going to be a team effort, but if the Nuggets buy in defensively it will help their chances of controlling this series after game 1.
Michael Porter Jr. hopefully building off his phenomenal regular season
Ever since Jamal Murray went down, Porter has stepped up. In desperate need of a running mate next to Nikola Jokic, Porter has become the Nuggets second guy and has flourished in his new role. Whether it’s scoring the basketball, rebounding, or contributing defensively, Porter has done it all and the Nuggets have been extremely successful because of that.
When you look at the Trail Blazers roster, this is a perfect series and matchup for Porter. Portland doesn't really have anyone who can defend Porter and they have no player offensively that Porter is going to struggle with defensively. I think Porter is going to have a HUGE series and hopefully that begins Saturday night.
Nikola Jokic vs. Jusuf Nurkic
This is a battle I'm extremely looking forward to following throughout this series. Jokic has dominated Nurkic over the past few seasons and I don't expect that to change in this series. The thing with Nurkic is he has been really good over the past month and he’s played a massive role in the Trail Blazers success as of late.
It will be important for Jokic to go at him early and to win the rebounding battle. Not allowing Portland to get second chance point opportunities will be huge because that is where they will make you pay. If the Nuggets can win the battle down low it will be key in securing game 1 and all the other games that follow.