Portland Trail Blazers vs Denver Nuggets: Lineups, preview & prediction 4/9/18
Denver have won five games in a row to keep their playoff hopes alive, but need to keep winning and have the Blazers standing in their way
There are only three days left in the regular season, and many sides still have no idea where they will finish. Two of those teams are Denver and Portland, and they will face one another in a huge clash on Monday.
Denver is sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference standings with a 45-35 record. They are tied with Minnesota, to whom they are losing the season series, and are one game behind the Pelicans, the Spurs and the Thunder. The Nuggets face Minnesota in their final game of the season, so if they win both of their final two games they are assured of a playoff spot.
Things are a little less stressful for the Blazers (48-32), though they could still easily drop from third position. They are just a game ahead of Utah and two games ahead of three other sides, and with a game against the Jazz to follow this one, could still feasibly drop into the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff spots.
Three keys to the game
Denver’s home court advantage – Much is made of the home court advantage the Nuggets hold, with the altitude of Denver combined with a long trip from the airport to the stadium making it the toughest trip in the NBA. Denver’s home record reflects this; they are 30-10 there, compared to 15-25 on the road.
McCollum’s form – CJ McCollum plays in a way which invariably results in some inconsistency, but he has consistently been inefficient of late. In his past five games he has not surpassed 20 points, is shooting 36.5% from the floor, and has connected on just five of his 28 3-point attempts (17.8%). Lillard has been playing terrific basketball for an extended period, but he will need his backcourt partner to help him out in this one.
Points in the paint – Denver are a talented offensive team, and scores a lot of points in the paint. Their 49.2 points per game in there is the fourth most in the league, and is a large reason for the potency of their offense. The Blazers, however, are very good at defending this area. They concede just 42 points per game in the paint, more than only three other sides in the NBA.
Matchup to watch
Jamal Murray vs Damian Lillard – Murray is in just the second season of his career and is already showing he has what it takes to be an excellent player. He has jumped significantly in all major statistical categories this season to average 16.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists, and shoot 45.3% from the floor and 38.3% from beyond the arc. He has become a major offensive factor in one of the better offenses in the league and has shown off his passing game with seven assists in three of his past four games. It might be on the defensive end of the floor where he has the biggest job to do in this game though.
He will deal with Lillard, who has been one of the best players in the league since the All-Star break. The Blazers’ star is averaging 28.5 points per game in this time, the fourth most in the league, and has led Portland to a 16-4 record since the break.
Denver Nuggets predicted starting lineup
PG – Jamal Murray | SG – Will Barton | SF – Wilson Chandler | PF – Paul Millsap | C – Nikola Jokic
Portland Trail Blazers predicted starting lineup
PG – Damian Lillard | SG – CJ McCollum | SF – Evan Turner | PF – Al-Farouq Aminu | C – Jusuf Nurkic
Murray blew the Blazers away last time these sides they met and was the main reason for Denver’s three-point win. The second-year point guard went 14-for-19 from the field and 4-for-6 from beyond the arc to clock up 38 points and also dished out six assists. In his previous two games against Portland though, he struggled, averaging just 12.5 points and going 1-for-12 from long range.
The over/under points total for this game is set at 218, and the under is a great bet here. None of the three games between these sides this season has gotten close to this mark, with the respective totals of those games being 181, 187 and 205. The importance of this game means both teams will lock down on defense as well, so expect it to come well under the 218 mark.
This will be a close and hard-fought contest. Both sides have plenty to play for, so expect a playoff-style intensity from start to finish.
The Blazers have a clear advantage in the backcourt, particularly in the absence of Gary Harris, and Lillard and McCollum will take advantage of this to combine for 50+ points. Their defense, too, will cause Denver some problems, but the Nuggets have enough weapons to still put up a good total.
Jokic is in incredible form and has been a key reason for Denver’s five-game winning streak, and he will be able to will his side to victory at home. They love playing there, and will be desperate to keep their season alive in front of their home crowd, which will be enough to lead them to a vital 104-101 victory.
The game will be broadcast locally on Altitude and NBCSNW. Tip-off is at 9pm ET.