The Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers meet in the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. In 2019, the Blazers bested the Nuggets in an extremely exciting seven-game series in the second round that included a quadruple-overtime outcome in Game 3. The winner of that series advanced to the conference finals. This time around, the winner will only advance into the second round. Nonetheless, if this matchup ends up being similar to the one in 2019, we'll be in for a treat.
Despite the loss of Jamal Murray to a torn ACL in April, the Nuggets were able to hold their position in the competitive Western Conference and secure the third seed in the conference, thanks largely to the MVP-level play of Nikola Jokic. Similarly, the Blazers were able to secure the sixth seed despite dealing with numerous injury issues over the course of the campaign. The two teams will now look to end the other's season. The teams played against each other three times during this season, with Denver winning two out of the three meetings, though Portland won the most recent game, which took place on the last day of the regular season.
Here's a look at the series schedule as well as three things to know ahead of the series between the Nuggets and Blazers.
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(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Portland Trail Blazers
Nuggets win series 4-2
- Game 1: Blazers 123, Nuggets 109
- Game 2: Nuggets 128, Blazers 109
- Game 3: Nuggets 120, Blazers 115
- Game 4: Blazers 115, Nuggets 95
- Game 5: Nuggets 147, Blazers 140 2OT
- Game 6: Nuggets 126, Blazers 115
1. Nuggets need Michael Porter Jr. to deliver
The Nuggets had high hopes when they selected Michael Porter Jr. with the No. 14 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, and he's quickly turning into the player they thought he could be. After starting just eight games for Denver as a rookie last season, Porter stepped into a starting spot with the team during the 2020-21 campaign and he delivered. Porter doubled his scoring average this season (from 9.3 to 19.0 points per game), and he snagged nearly three more rebounds per game this season (7.3) compared to 2019-20 (4.7).
He's also improved his shooting percentage both from the field and from long range. Last season he shot 50 percent overall and 42 percent from deep. This season he's shooting 54 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point range. Porter has stepped up even more since Murray went down, too. He averaged 23.9 points per game in April and 21.0 points per game in May, as has developed into Denver's second offensive option behind Jokic. Without Murray and against a team capable of putting up major points in the Blazers, the Nuggets will need Porter to continue to produce at a high level if they want to advance.
2. Portland needs to bring its best defense to series
The Blazers are basically a tale of two teams. On the offensive end, they're elite. They have a plethora of solid scorers and shooters, headlined by Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony, and as a result they have the NBA's second-best offense this season. They can put up points as well as any team in the league, and they can do so quickly. However, on the other side of the floor it's a completely different story. Portland's defense was porous over the course of the season, and as a result it finished with the second-worst defense in the league. They Blazers were able to have a solid season despite their defensive deficiencies, but it will come back to bite them in the postseason if they are unable to improve. Denver had the sixth-ranked offense during the regular season, and over the course of a series it will pick Portland apart if it plays lackadaisical defense. Offense is obviously important, but in the playoffs you have to bring it on both ends, or else you won't last long.
3. Jokic needs to play like the presumptive MVP
The votes are already in, so what Nikola Jokic does in the postseason won't impact his MVP candidacy. Still, the Nuggets certainly need him to play at an MVP level if they want to advance past Portland. Jokic was arguably the most dominant player in the league this season, especially on the offensive end, where his combination of size, strength and vision make him a nightmare for opponents. Jokic averaged 29 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in three games against Portland this season, and he will need similar, or better, production if Denver is going to advance.