Western Conference Semifinals – Game 3 — Series tied 1-1
No. 2 Denver at No. 3 Portland (-4, 215.5), ESPN, 10:35 p.m. ET
May 1 – Blazers (+4) 97 at Nuggets 90 (Under 219.5)
April 29 – Nuggets (-4) 121 vs. Blazers 113 (Over 215.5)
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)
The Trail Blazers put their fresher legs to good use in clamping down against the Nuggets in Game 2, avoiding an 0-2 series deficit and a must-win tonight. We’ll now get to see if they can put their foot on Denver’s throat at home the way they did the Thunder the last time they took the floor at Moda Center.
Damian Lillard finished off a 50-point night with a series-clinching 3-pointer over Paul George’s outstretched arms to eliminate Oklahoma City on April 23. It’s going to be difficult to ever reproduce the magic of that evening, but the Blazers do have an 11-game home winning streak, last losing to OKC on March 7. Only the Bucks and Nuggets have had more success at home than the Trail Blazers.
Denver point guard Jamal Murray has been receiving treatment after injuring his right thigh in Game 2. His mobility was noticeably compromised on Wednesday night and factored into the Nuggets fading in the second half, so we’ll see if he’s able to make it through tonight’s game while supplying his normal production. That’s an immense variable since we’d see more of Monte Morris and Will Barton in a playmaker role if Murray isn’t right.
Denver opened the series as a slight favorite (-145) over the Trail Blazers (+125), who then became a great value bet prior to Game 2 since they went into that game at 14-to-1 to win the West and 40-to-1 to win the NBA title, making them the biggest longshot remaining in the field according to Westgate Superbook prior to getting even. As things stand now, if you think the Warriors are at all vulnerable, Lillard, an Oakland native, is currently more likely to get over against them than James Harden given his injured eyelid and rough form shooting the ball.
Portland had dropped seven of eight against Denver dating back to last season entering Game 2, but Enes Kanter continued playing through shoulder pain and was the x-factor the Blazers need him to be to at least provide some resistance against Nikola Jokic, who has long dominated them and continues to be a terror inside. Meyers Leonard and Zack Collins have also had roles in trying to make life as difficult as possible for Jokic, who doesn’t have to deal with former teammate and good friend Jusuf Nurkic, who was lost for the season on March 25 with a horrific ankle injury.
Despite CJ McCollum and Mo Harkless dealing with injuries and only getting healthy late in the season, the Blazers hit their stride with Evan Turner improving off the bench and newcomer Rodney Hood scoring efficiently the way he was rarely able to in a similar role with the LeBron James-led Cavs last season.
VegasInsider.com NBA expert Kevin Rogers points out a few trends that favor the home team in Game 3.
“For the most part, the Blazers have actually performed well off a road win since the All-Star break. Portland has won nine of its last 13 games off a highway victory, including the Lillard-led clincher against Oklahoma City,” Rogers said. “The Blazers have compiled a solid 13-1 record in the past 14 games at the Moda Center since early February with the lone defeat coming to the Thunder in overtime on March 7. However, the Nuggets covered in both visits to Portland, including as 8.5-point underdogs late in the season in a 115-108 setback.”
Kanter has been wearing padding over his left shoulder, but has remained effective and is averaging 20.5 points and eight boards through the first two games, keeping pace with Jokic’s 26.5 points, 11. 5 rebounds and six assists. He’s making the big man work, and there was significant concern that he wouldn’t be able to defend effectively enough to help replace Nurkic when the postseason began, so his effort must be recognized as the x-factor for Portland.
Lillard played in all four regular-season meetings against Denver, averaging 21.3 points but shooting just 37 percent from the field and 28.6 from 3-point range. Although he scored 39 points in the Game 1 loss, Gary Harris helped limit him to just 14 points on 5-for-17 shots in Game 2. Over the first two games of this series, he’s shot 5-for-19 from 3-point range, which makes you wonder if an explosion is coming now that he’s back home. Will familiarity and home love lead to the return of “Logo” Lillard? If so, Denver will have a long night ahead. Lillard shot 40 percent from 3-point range at home as opposed to 34 percent on the road during the regular season and despite scoring roughly the same amount of points per game.
The team total for the Blazers has been set at 109.5, while Denver comes in at 105.5. The Nuggets have eclipsed that number only once in its last four games. Mike Callahan, Eric Lewis and Rodney Mott will be on the whistle. Portland will host Game 4 on Sunday evening.