Trail Blazers vs. Nuggets Odds, Game 1 Preview, Prediction: Damian Lillard Looks to Outshine Nikola Jokic (May 22)
Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Damian Lillard.
- Game 1 of Portland vs. Denver wraps up the first night of the NBA playoffs with an extremely close anticipated matchup.
- Portland relies on huge offensive production from Damian Lillard, but its defense has actually improved to league average down the stretch, making them a much more potent threat to take out the Nuggets.
- Phillip Kall explains below why he thinks Portland may be able to get it done in Game 1, even if Nikola Jokic goes off.
Trail Blazers vs. Nuggets Odds
|Trail Blazers Odds||+1|
|Moneyline||-104 / -112|
|Time||Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET|
|Odds as of Friday and via PointsBet|
Denver’s biggest question to a successful series is who will replace Jamal Murray. Murray’s late-game heroics were what separated the Nuggets from a team out in the first round to being a Western Conference finalist last season. They have Nikola Jokic to lead the offense but still need to find who their “get-a-bucket” guy will be.
While Denver faces new challenges, Portland’s is the same, namely, how their defense holds up. In the previous playoffs, if Portland’s defense was on, everyone fell in love and wondered why Damian Lillard was not more respected. However, if the defense fails to show, things end quickly for Portland. Since Dame’s arrival, the Blazers have never made it past game five in a series they lost.
This matchup could be a perfect example of the old adage “styles make fights.” Denver is a team built mostly to run through its frontcourt, while Portland relies on their backcourt. Let’s look further to see who will have the advantage.
Trail Blazers Must Step It Up On Defense
Since the beginning of April, Portland has perfectly personified their playoff ability to look either fantastic or dreadful. To start April, the Blazers were 3-10, the offense looked average at best, and the defense was bottom 10 as usual. When April 27 struck though, an entirely different team appeared. They ended 10-2 to escape the play-in games and would have the highest Net Rating in that time per NBA.com.
Making the difference is the play of the defense. On the year, Portland’s Defensive Rating ranks second worst, and they allow the sixth-highest field goal percentage. In their late year run, the Blazers’ Defensive Rating shot up to 11th, and they would allow the fifth-lowest field goal percentage. This may have been them turning on playoff mode early, but it was still good to see they have what it takes to play tough defense.
During their hot-stretch, Portland’s offense has thrived from behind the arc, ranking first in 3-point percentage. Their proficient shooting has forced teams to guard the perimeter more and actually helped them score more efficiently inside. Per NBA.com, the Blazers climbed to the 17th-best 2-point field goal percentage. This may not seem like much, but it’s a big jump from their 27th ranking previously.
Against Denver, teams typically focus on attacking from behind the arc, as they allow the ninth-most 3-point attempts per game. If Portland continues to shoot as well as they have recently, it should open the rest of their offense up. Then it will just come down to continuing to play defense as they have in recent weeks.
Nuggets Need an MVP Performance From Jokic
Last postseason the Nuggets were the NBA’s Cinderella story as they pulled off two 3-1 comebacks to make the Western Conference finals. This year pulling off a similar run will be more difficult due to the absence of Jamal Murray. The difference between having Murray and not having Murray stood out the most in matchups against other playoff teams.
Since Murray tore his ACL, Michael Porter Jr. has stepped up and filled in the scoring void. Per NBA.com, Porter has averaged 23.5 points on 56.0% shooting in that time. His production is a major reason the Nuggets offense has maintained its spot in the top 10 of Offensive Rating. Porter flashed some scoring potential in last year’s playoffs putting up multiple 15-point performances despite being a reserve. This will be his opportunity to show he can be a leader to a successful postseason run.
While Porter provides a nice secondary punch, the Nuggets’ success will come down to the play of likely MVP, Nikola Jokic. Denver won the regular season series 2-1 (the loss coming on the last day of the season when the Nuggets rested) largely because of Jokic’s ability to terrorize inside. The Nuggets may need him to replicate his 41-point outing against Portland in February a few times if they are to escape Round 1.
Trail Blazers-Nuggets Pick
As a team that relies on their guards for success this matchup is aligning well to start for the Blazers. Denver missing Murray removes their biggest threat to take advantage of the Blazers’ guards’ poor defensive capabilities.
The Nuggets will also be without Will Barton and potentially Austin Rivers. This would send them quite far down the bench to find who will be guarding Lillard and CJ McCollum, Portland’s best scorers.
Denver having injuries gives Portland a big edge. It will be up to Portland’s defense to not let this opportunity slip away. The biggest concern for the Blazers will be stopping Denver inside despite their height disadvantage.
During the end-of-the-year run, Portland did successfully stop teams inside, allowing the third-lowest field goal percentage within eight feet per NBA.com. While that number brings optimism, not all teams have someone like Nikola Jokic. However, if Denver chooses to attack inside, they still might outscore them with their 3-point proficiency.
The Pick: In Game 1, back Portland to start the series hot and get the win.