The Denver Nuggets needed seven games to take down the Spurs to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. They take on the Portland Trailblazers who disposed of the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games after being dominated by the Thunder in the regular season.
Examining the teams statistically during the regular season, Portland was third in rebounding and in the top ten in both scoring and three-point field goal percentage. They were in the middle of the pack in fewest points allowed and turnovers, while near the bottom of the league in assists. Denver was second in assists, sixth in fewest points allowed and eighth in both rebounding and turnovers. Clearly a defensive oriented team, the Nuggets ranked just 20th in scoring.
During the first round win over the Thunder, Damian Lillards and C.J. McCollum lead the way, averaging a combined 57 points on 47 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Enes Kanter was a big force inside, averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds, but it listed as day-to-day with a shoulder injury. Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu was solid contributors, combining for 22 points and 14 rebounds, while Seth Curry drilled 55 percent of his shots from three-point range. Portland outscored the Thunder by ten points per game, while losing their only game in the series by 12.
Nikola Jokic was a one man show in the series against the Spurs, leading the Nuggets in scoring (23), rebounding (12) and assists (9). Jamal Murray added 19 points, while Gary Harris and Paul Millsap rounded out the four Denver players averaging in double-digits scoring. Hitting 39 percent from beyond the arc in the first six games, the Nuggets hit only 2-of-20 in the last game. They will have to rebound from that performance to take down a hot Portland team.
During the regular season the Nuggets had the second best record in the Western Conference with a record of 54-28, including a stellar 34-7 at home. Portland was right behind them, at 53-29 including a 20-6 run to end the season. They went 32-9 at home and 21-20 on the road. Denver had the edge during the season series, winning three of four games, although the total margin of victory was only 13 points.
The key to the series is Portland stealing one of the first two, which is a tall order. However, the back court duo of Lillard and McCollum are capable of carrying the team. If Portland can carry their momentum and gain a split, they have the upper hand and can win the series in six or seven. However, if Denver goes up 2-0, it will be very difficult for Portland to win. Keep an eye on the first two games to determine the most likely outcome of the series.