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Nuggets vs. Blazers Western Conference Semifinals Preview

While the Blazers made quick work of the Thunder in five games, the Nuggets narrowly beat out the Spurs following a four-point win in last night’s game seven. Seed-wise, this should have a great match-up between the two and three seed, but how do the teams stack up against each other?

Regular Season Head to Head

The Nuggets won the first two games of the season series back in November and January respectively. The two teams split the remaining two games in April, however, the Blazers were without Jusuf Nurkic for both of these games. The only game the Nuggets lost, however, was when Nikola Jokic was out for rest.

In terms of point differential, the Nuggets wins were by one, three, and nine points respectively, while the Blazers one win was by seven. Gary Harris led the way in their first match-up with 27 points, and in the second game, Jokic was the difference maker with a 40 point, near triple-double. In their third showdown, Paul Millsap, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic all had at least 20, and Torrey Craig poured in 18 off the bench.

Kanter Vs. Jokic

With Jusuf Nurkic injured, the majority of center minutes will fall to Enes Kanter. He was solid in the first round and in his two games against the Nuggets this year, but will his defense make him a liability? Photo by David Zalubowski/The Associated Press

While Enes Kanter is by no means the Blazers best, or even second best player for that matter, his play against Nikola Jokic will likely be the difference maker. Kanter is excellent offensively and was solid in both games against Denver this year. The problem for Kanter is his lackluster defense on the perimeter. This is especially an issue against a team like Denver whose bread and butter is a Murray-Jokic pick and roll. Kanter will more than likely give up buckets on the perimeter, but if he can make up for it offensively, the Blazers should be in a good spot. He’s an excellent offensive rebounder and scorer, and if he manages to tire out Jokic on the defensive end and get him into foul trouble, the Blazers will take away the Nuggets’ main offensive weapon.

Guard Play

As the best guards on their respective teams, the play of Murray and Lillard will set the tone for the series. Photo by Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY Sports

For Portland, their offense is dependent on the play of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Thus far, Lillard is putting up a ridiculous 33.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 48.1% from three in the playoffs. McCollum has also been great, averaging 24.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists on 44.7% from three. The Blazers will need them to keep up the pace with their scoring and shooting and they’ll need others like Seth Curry and Rodney Hood to perform well offensively as well.

Between Murray, Harris, Will Barton, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Torrey Craig, the Nuggets roster is deep and full of talented shooters and finishers. As long as Jokic is in the game, Denver will likely always have someone open off a cut or on the perimeter. For the Blazers guards to outperform their Nugget counterparts, they’ll need to continue their fiery pace from the first round and either lock down the perimeter or hope that Denver goes cold.

Prediction

Both teams are far too talented to be swept, and at worst this series is likely to go at least six games. Although Enes Kanter is a poor defender, Nikola Jokic isn’t much better, if at all. Whichever teams’ bigs dominate the boards and guards best take advantage of switches on the perimeter will most certainly win. The Nuggets are the deeper team, however, and Kanter is dealing with a shoulder injury, which should cause concern for the Blazers. Save for a nuclear second round by Lillard, Denver should win in six or seven games.


Stats courtesy of NBA.com

Featured image courtesy of Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

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