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Nuggets vs. Trail Blazers Odds, Picks, Predictions: Can Denver Close Out Series in Game 6? (June 3)

Nuggets vs. Trail Blazers Odds, Picks, Predictions: Can Denver Close Out Series in Game 6? (June 3) article feature image

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images. Pictured: Damian Lillard.

  • The Trail Blazers host the Nuggets for Game 6 of their NBA playoff series on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT), with Portland needing a win to force a decisive Game 7.
  • Damian Lillard had one of the best playoff performances ever in Game 5 on Tuesday in a losing effort and will need the help of his supporting cast to extend Portland's season.
  • Brandon Anderson explains below why he thinks Lillard and Co. will have enough to force a Game 7.

Nuggets vs. Blazers Game 6 Odds

Nuggets Odds +5
Blazers Odds -5
Moneyline +170 / -210
Over/Under 227.5
Time Thursday, 8 p.m. ET
Odds as of Wednesday and via DraftKings

Game 5 between these teams was an absolute classic, though it sure didn’t look the part early.

The Nuggets jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead and led by 21 midway through the second quarter as the Blazers looked tired and lifeless early on. But Portland nearly evened things up before halftime, and Damian Lillard took over from there.

Dame put up 55 points, setting an NBA playoff record with 12 made 3s, including game savers at the end of regulation and again in overtime. Even still, Portland had no answers on the other end for Denver’s offense. Nikola Jokic was brilliant once again, and Austin Rivers, Monte Morris and Michael Porter Jr. had big games too as Denver hung on to win in double overtime, 147-140, to go up 3-2 in the series.

Now the series heads back to Portland, where the Blazers are playing for their lives. Portland won Game 1 of the series before losing two straight, then stole a game in Denver to tie it up 2-2 before losing the Game 5 classic. Lillard and Jokic have been absolute fireballs so far in this series, outside of one off game for each, but it’s been the supporting casts that have determined the fate of the series thus far.

How will these teams respond after a marathon Game 5 classic? Can Portland force a Game 7, or will Denver finish the job on the road?

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It’s What the Nuggets Not Named Jokic Can Do

The Nuggets remain super shorthanded, but it sure doesn’t seem to matter, at least in this series. Denver is practically picking dudes out of the stands at this point, hitting them perfectly with precision Jokic passes and watching them knock down crunch-time 3s in a fill-in guard role. At times this series, it’s been Rivers hitting the big shot. Other games it was Facundo Campazzo. Game 5 was Monte Morris’s turn to shine. Rookie Markus Howard hit a few big shots too.

Jamal Murray is out for the season, and Will Barton and P.J. Dozier still aren’t ready yet, so these are the names Denver is relying upon, and the Nuggets are getting just enough from their guards right now. That’s what an MVP does — he elevates his teammates. Rivers was not even employed a few months ago, Campazzo was an unknown rookie, and Howard went undrafted. That quartet is now averaging 41.2 points per game in a playoff series, and they’ve played just about every guard minute for the Nuggets.

Denver knows what it’s going to get from Nikola Jokic at this point. He’s averaging 32.4 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game on 52/42/89 shooting. Ho hum, just what’s expected from Jokic at this point. Portland has dared Jokic to be more of a scorer, and he’s been happy to oblige. The only thing surprising about that line is the 52% from the field — because it sure feels like he’s making about 90% of his shots.

Still, 32 points and four assists aren’t enough for the win, so Jokic needs help from a few teammates each game, whoever they happen to be. He got a big boost from Michael Porter Jr. in Game 5, who finally showed up for his biggest game of the series after sleepwalking through Game 4 and barely even getting a shot up. If MPJ is hitting shots like that too, it’s hard to see Denver losing two in a row to the Blazers.

The whole Denver problem has been a lack of firepower compared to Portland. But if Porter plays like he did in Game 5 — and like he did the final month of the season after Murray went out — like the third best player on the court, Denver is in great position.

The Nuggets also need that quartet of guards to keep hitting shots, because Portland has little choice but to try to force those guys to beat them. Right now, those four guards have hit 38 3s so far this series. That’s 7.6 makes per game at a 42.7% clip. It’s not sustainable shooting or these guys would be playing bigger minutes, but Portland is giving them clean looks, and Jokic is hitting his shooters in rhythm.

Remember, 7.6 is both a lot and not that much. Denver just needs these guards to hit about two 3s a quarter to stay at this pace. If they do that and Jokic and Porter show up, Denver will be in great shape. If the guards can’t hit shots or Porter goes missing again, it could be all on the MVP.

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Portland’s Most Important Player Other Than Lillard Is… 

The one thing Denver probably won’t do is win this series with defense.

Portland’s offense is too good for that to happen, at least not for long. We’ve seen the Blazers go cold for stretches, like at the start of Game 5 and, really, the close of the game too, outside of Lillard. While Dame lit up the nets down the stretch, his teammates shot an ugly 1-of-19 in the overtimes and left him with a loss in an historic individual effort.

Lillard had an incredible night. He scored 55 points on just 24 shots, including a record 12 made 3s, almost all of which felt like they came in desperation at the end of regulation and in the overtimes. The worse Dame’s teammates played, the more he kept hitting shots to keep them in it. Lillard scored 55 on 17-of-24 shooting; his teammates added 85 points on 39-of-79 shooting. That’s 2.3 points per Lillard shot and under 1.1 points when anyone else on the team had to take a shot. That’s not going to cut it, no matter how incendiary your superstar is.

Still, I liked Portland coming into this series because they had more firepower than the Nuggets, and that is still clearly the case. Even as awesome as Jokic is, he can’t put up that sort of scoring night. And while Denver’s guards are hitting shots right now, you’d clearly rather have CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Carmelo Anthony and Anfernee Simons taking those shots.

The one spot Portland isn’t deeper is at center, and so far, that has been the difference in the series. Jusuf Nurkic has mostly played Jokic even when he’s been on the court. The problem is that he hasn’t been out there enough, fouling out three times in five games after never doing so all season. The Blazers are plus-54 in Nurk’s minutes so far this series. They’re minus-57 with Nurkic off the court. In a series separated by three points total after five games, that is a staggering difference.

It’s no coincidence that Nurkic fouled out in all three Portland losses this series. Denver has yet to outscore the Blazers with Nurkic on the court this series, but he’s played 62% of the minutes in Portland’s wins and just 52% of the minutes in Nuggets wins. Portland backup center Enes Kanter has been unplayable at times against Jokic. The Blazers have also tried Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as a de facto big man, but he was disastrous in Game 5.

If Nurkic can stay on the court and match minutes with Jokic, the Blazers will be in great shape. If he gets in foul trouble again with those ticky-tack and offensive fouls he seems to rack up, Portland is in trouble. It’s clear at this point that the Blazers have no answer for Denver without Nurkic other than just hoping the Nuggets miss shots or hoping Dame can save them.

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Nuggets-Trail Blazers Pick

Game 5 of a tied series is always pivotal, and a marathon 2OT game even more so. It would be tempting to bury the loser of that game, now needing a pair of wins after an exhausting and brutal loss. But we should know better by now.

After all, Denver just came back from a 3-1 deficit twice in last year’s playoffs. And the year before, the Blazers came back from a 3-2 deficit and won Game 7 on the road — against these very Nuggets!

This series remains difficult to get a good grasp on. Each team has won on the road already. The Blazers lost Dame’s 55-point game and won a game when Lillard shot 1-of-10 from the field. We know the Nuggets need their role players to hit shots but have no idea who that will be or if they’ll hit them. We know the Blazers need Nurkic to stay on the court but have no idea if he’ll get in foul trouble. Those might be some good signals to watch for a live bet, if you pick up on a solid trend, but they don’t help much right now.

The under makes sense, in theory. These teams should be exhausted after playing double overtime in Denver’s elevation just two nights ago. Six of the 10 starters played over 50 minutes in Game 5. Tired legs make for missed shots and slower pace, typically, but both of these teams have played in long marathon games and series before so this is nothing new.

And a line of 227.5 is too low to feel comfortable with an under in a game with such little defense. Four of five games this series have gone over that number, with at least one team scoring 120 in all of them and the only under a game when Denver completely no-showed and the benches played much of the second half.

In the end, the Blazers still seem like the slightly better and more talented team. That 5-point spread is a touch higher than preferable, but all five winners this series have covered the spread too, and the winner each game would be 4-0-1 against a 5-point spread. If we trust Portland to win, we should trust them to cover this number.

I trust Portland to win — at least once more. I’ll take the Blazers to win and cover the five. I’ll play to 5.5 and buckle up for more fireworks.

Pick: Blazers -5

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