Nuggets vs. Blazers Odds, Preview & Game 4 Predictions: Expect Damian Lillard & Co. to Bounce Back Saturday
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers, Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets.
- The Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers meet in Game 4 of a series that has swung back and forth so far through three games.
- The Blazers, despite losing Game 3 of this playoff series, are 4.5-point home favorites entering Saturday's matchup.
- NBA betting analyst Brandon Anderson explains why he's betting on a bounce back performance in Portland to tie the series.
Nuggets vs. Blazers Game 4 Odds
|Trail Blazers Odds
|+165 / -195
|4 p.m. ET
|Odds as of Friday and via PointsBet.
Well, this series sure has gotten interesting.
The Portland Trail Blazers won Game 1 on the road by 14 with a huge shooting performance, and the game looked exactly like everyone expected going in — the Blazers simply had more firepower both in the starting lineup and off the bench, with Denver shorthanded with so many guard injuries.
Game 2 reminded us why the Denver Nuggets still have a chance in this series — the Blazers were one of the worst defenses in the league all season long and have little chance of stopping this team or anyone else.
The series shifted to Portland in Game 3, but Denver took control early and led most of the way. The Nuggets scored efficiently again, and for the first time in the series, the shooting variance swung Denver's way.
Now Denver is up 2-1 in the series, and for the first time, it's Portland in desperate need of a win to protect its home court and not go down 3-1 with its season, and maybe its team core and coach on the line.
Let's take a look at what we can expect in Game 4.
Can Denver's Role Players Maintain Their Play?
The Nuggets are the better seed this series because they were the better team all season long, but that's not particularly relevant now. Denver hasn't been the same team since Jamal Murray went out for the season. But it's not just Murray who's missing; Denver is still missing three of its top five guards, with Will Barton and P.J. Dozier also out injured. Barton is getting closer, but both guards have been ruled out for Game 4.
The Nuggets are built, quite obviously, around their superstar man in the middle. Nikola Jokic is the MVP elect and should get nearly all the votes after a spectacular season; he's been every bit as good in the playoffs thus far. Through three games, Jokic is averaging 36.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists and absolutely dominating Portland's defense, or lack thereof. The Blazers have had few answers for Jokic.
Portland has been daring Jokic to beat them as a scorer instead of a facilitator and, well, he has been happy to oblige. Jokic has put up absurd 57/50/94 shooting splits so far in the playoffs, and Denver has a 138 Offensive Rating in the playoffs with Jokic on the court, per Basketball Reference.
Jokic has been mostly a one-man show. Michael Porter Jr. was supposed to step up as the second star, but it hasn't really happened yet in the playoffs. MPJ hasn't been bad, but he's yet to make his stamp on this series. Instead it's been Jokic and then moments here and there from Denver's spare parts. Facundo Campazzo had big moments on both ends of the court, and Austin Rivers hit four 3s over the final half of the fourth quarter in Game 3, including three in under two minutes.
Moments or not, there's little question Denver is at a massive deficit at guard right now. Portland's backcourt is as good as any NBA team outside of Brooklyn, to be fair, but the Nuggets are starting a 30-year-old rookie and a veteran who was out of the league a few months ago in Campazzo and Rivers, with Monte Morris, rookie Markus Howard, and another defender Shaq Harrison rotating in off the bench.
Portland has been daring those guards to beat them, and in Game 3 they did. Campazzo had 11 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists; Rivers had those five 3s and won the game for Denver late. That doesn't mean Portland had the wrong strategy, though. If Facu and Rivers beat you, sometimes you just tip your cap.
Denver's offense has scored efficiently in all three games, in part because the Nuggets always score well with Jokic around, and partly because the Blazers have no answers. Denver also dominates the offensive glass and hurt Portland with a few big boards late of Game 3, including the clinching one in the final seconds.
Denver is going to score. Portland's defense will make sure of that. The question is whether the Blazers can find any answers at all to at least slow Denver down, and whether the Nuggets can continue to slow the Blazers.
Can Portland Win the Battle of Nurkic vs. Jokic?
If you've watched the first three games of this series, you've seen that the Trail Blazers live and die on their 3-pointers. Portland ranked second in the NBA this season in 3s made. The Blazers were sixth best at 38.5% percent beyond the arc. And it's not just Damian Lillard.
Lillard, CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, and Carmelo Anthony all took at least five 3-point attempts per game this season, with Lillard and McCollum both at nine-plus per game. All five of those players except for Powell hit 38% or more of their 3s this year, and Portland combined to hit 15.7 treys per game. That's almost 50 points per game from beyond the arc.
Unfortunately, that means Portland is prone to wild swings with shooting variance. The Blazers hit 29 3s over the first two games, right at their season average per game, and they needed only 57 attempts to get there, hitting 51% of their attempts. They took 45 attempts in Game 3 alone and did end up making 14 more, still around the season average, but this time they hit only 31% of those shots.
And really, it was much worse than that. Portland made its final four 3s of the game (before a 66-footer at the buzzer) in the last couple minutes of a game that had already slipped away. Before that final stretch, the Blazers had shot just 10-of-40 from deep, making only 25%.
The Blazers don't score well inside the arc, where Denver is more vulnerable. And they sure as heck don't do much defending. They're below average against both 2s and 3s, fouled a lot all season, aren't particularly good on the glass, and rarely force turnovers. Portland ranked second to last in Defensive Efficiency this season, so basically last considering the Sacramento Kings never even learned what the word "defense" meant this season.
Lillard has been awesome, and like Denver, we're still waiting for McCollum to make his mark on this series. It feels a bit like the winner of this series might be whichever one of MPJ or CJ shows up big first.
But there's little question at this point that Jusuf Nurkic is the key Blazer in this series. Nurkic is Portland's one answer to Jokic. The two were former teammates in Denver, and they're Eastern European rivals who know each other quite well. With Nurkic on the court, the Blazers have played Jokic's Nuggets even or better. The problem is keeping him on the court, because he's in constant foul trouble and not one to log huge minutes physically anyway.
In Game 3, Nurkic played 31.5 minutes. The Blazers were plus-nine in those minutes. But when they went to backup big man Enes Kanter for 5:50 in the first half, the Nuggets ripped off a 16-1 run that ended up being decisive. Portland won the 42 non-Kanter minutes of Game 3 by 10 points, but Kanter was so damaging that the Blazers lost anyway.
Kanter didn't play at all in the second half, and when Nurkic fouled out early, the Blazers either played small with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at "center" or even smaller with no big man at all. And it worked! The Blazers were plus-one in those 10 minutes.
Nurkic may be the key to Game 4 and this series. He's the only hope Portland has of slowing down the MVP. Kanter may not play at all, and certainly not if Jokic is out there, and it wouldn't even be shocking to see Portland try out Harry Giles or another option at this point. But the only real solution is milking as many minutes out of Nurkic as possible. Even three to five more minutes of Nurk could swing the game.
Nuggets-Trail Blazers Pick
It feels like the swing factors in this game will be Nurkic's minutes, Portland's 3-point shooting, and Denver's role players showing up.
All of that sure feels like it's random. But with this game in Portland, that helps all three of those, at least in theory. The home team should get the kinder whistle, especially after Nurkic got so many ticky-tack fouls last game, and teams typically see their role players perform better at home. That didn't happen in Game 3, but past performance doesn't always predict future behavior.
It feels like this playoff series is basically a dead heat thus far. Game 1 was a clear Blazers win, Game 2 went to the Nuggets, and Game 3 felt like a near coin flip with shooting variance and Rivers winning it for Denver.
But take a look at this data from @Shot_Quality:
👀Misleading Final Score👀
The Nuggets won by 6, but based on the shots attempts taken by both teams, the Blazers were expected to win by 6!
— ShotQuality (@Shot_Quality) May 28, 2021
Portland lost by five, but the Blazers took better shots overall and simply got unlucky. Based on the players who took the shots and where they took them, @Shot_Quality estimates Portland would win this exact game by six in a game with more even shooting variance, and that the Blazers would've 65% of the time overall.
Instead, shooting luck meant that Denver scored 14 more points on 3s than expected while Portland scored 10 fewer points on 3s than expected. That's a 24-point swing on 3-point luck.
This series has been so close that it's easy to build a case for almost any pick. The over 227.5 makes sense, with all three games hitting 232 or better thus far, but the pace has slowed in this series and both teams are still getting pretty strong shooting luck overall so some regression may be coming. Denver's +150 moneyline makes some sense too, since the Nuggets only have to win 40% of the time to make good on that one.
In the end, I'm trusting what I see in the numbers and on the court and sticking with what I felt coming into this series. Portland still has more weapons and more firepower. The Blazers are in the more desperate position and can't afford to go down 3-1 heading back to Denver, especially knowing Barton will be back any day.
I'll trust Nurkic to find a way to stay on the court a bit longer, I know Lillard will do his thing, and maybe McCollum or Powell will finally put up a big game next to him. I have to take the Blazers to win and cover in what is shaping up to be a long and wildly entertaining series.
Pick: Blazers -4.5