Western Conference Semifinals – Game 1
No. 3 Portland at No. 2 Denver (-4/216), TNT, 10:35 p.m. ET
April 7 – Blazers (-8.5) 115 vs. Nuggets 108 (Under 219.5)
April 5 – Nuggets (-6) 119 vs. Blazers 110 (Over 216)
Jan. 13 – Nuggets (-4.5) 116 vs. Blazers 113 (Over 217)
Nov. 30 – Nuggets (+1.5) 113 at Blazers 112 (Over 214)
These teams know each other awfully well, having just played twice in the regular-season’s final week while following one another all year since they ended up finishing 1-2 in the loaded Northwest Division. Damian Lillard shot 3-for-14 the last time he stepped out on to the Pepsi Center, contributing greatly to the Blazers ultimately finishing a game off the pace as Denver clinched the Northwest for the first time since 2010 with a 119-110 win. That was his last rough outing, as he comes into this Game 1 on the heels of a 50-point night and epic series-clinching 3-pointer over Paul George’s outstretched arms to pull Oklahoma City’s heart out of its chest and send it packing.
He made that shot late last Tuesday, barely an hour after the Nuggets went up 3-2 on San Antonio that same evening. Denver has since lost at the Spurs and pulled off a Game 7 home win on Saturday night, so there’s no doubt who the fresher team in this series opener should be. We’ll see if the Trail Blazers can find their rhythm on the road early on after an extended break, but they should have the edge down the stretch.
Portland center Enes Kanter has been dealing with a shoulder issue suffered against the Thunder but was shooting around in practice on Sunday and is expected to play despite being listed as questionable. The midseason acquisition who was signed after being waived by the Knicks played a huge role against Oklahoma City and will be the x-factor here since he’ll be expected to do his best against Nuggets star Nikola Jokic. Kanter has been wearing padding over his left shoulder, so we’ll see whether he’s limited in any way. As a righty, the injury shouldn’t affect his shooting motion but could factor in what he can do comfortably in the post and whether he’ll be at a disadvantage blocking out or defending in the post.
Jokic sat out the most recent meeting against Kanter and the Trail Blazers but finished with 22 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists in the division-clincher, scoring 10 points in the fourth as Denver pulled away for a comeback win by finishing the final 12 minutes with a 35-23 edge. The Nuggets won the regular-series 3-1, pulling off the lone road victory.
VegasInsider.com NBA expert Kevin Rogers looks for homecourt advantage to play a large role in deciding a winner.
“This series has been owned by the home team as it seems like whoever wins even one road game will advance to the Western Conference Finals. There isn’t a lot of confidence in either team to win on the highway as the Blazers own a dreadful 2-16 mark away from the Moda Center in the playoffs dating back to 2014,” Rogers said. “Yes, one of those victories came at Oklahoma City in Game 4 of the first round, but the Blazers have dropped five consecutive visits to Denver. The Nuggets have lost 14 of their past 16 road playoff games since 2010, including a 1-2 mark against San Antonio in the opening round.”
Lillard played in all four meetings against Denver, averaging 21.3 points but shooting just 37 percent from the field and 28.6 from 3-point range. We shouldn’t see the same level of contempt he had for Russell Westbrook since there hasn’t been much bad blood against Denver’s backcourt despite the familiarity. Jamal Murray averaged 19 points in the three games he played but shot just 30.8 percent from 3-point range himself.
It will be interesting to see which set of forwards, Denver’s Paul Millsap and Torrey Craig or Portland’s Al-Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless, will impose their will. The bench should also play a large role since the Nuggets have former Blazer Will Barton making a difference since joining the second unit in the first round against OKC, teaming with point guard Monte Morris and shooter Malik Beasley to alter the course of games. The Blazers will be led by Evan Turner, Rodney Hood and Seth Curry. Game 2 will be Wednesday night in Denver.