Denver at Portland
Time: 9 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: POR -1
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Denver Nuggets and Portland Blazers are both respectively 35-38 and in a dead heat for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.
This game will be a definitive mark in the chase for that spot, and the Blazers will host the Nuggets as just 1-point favorites tonight on NBA League pass at 9 PM Central time.
Both Denver and Portland have been hot, and both teams engaged in a season-altering deal at the deadline, as the Blazers sent starting center Mason Plumlee to the Nuggets in exchange for backup center Josef Nurkic and a first round pick. That trade has mostly paid dividends for Portland, as the Blazers have moved away from the ineffectual high post offense it was running to feature its two star guards more heavily, all the while milking production from Nurkic with his back to the basket.
The Trail Blazers now seem to have a real sense of offensive balance, and Nurkic has been superb in his 18 games in Portland, posting averages of 14 points, 10 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game and a PER of 19.7. It has also brought out the best of former Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, who has been on an absolute tear since his second consecutive All-Star snub.
Lillard is averaging 26.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, and functioning in perfect unison with starting 2-guard C.J. McCollum. McCollum has tallied 23 points per game while shooting 48.5 percent from the floor and 42.4 percent from three point range.
Portland is a bit light on depth, but its starting rotation and the top end of the bench is all that will be seen in the postseason. While Portland may be several tiers behind its likely first round opponent, the Golden State Warriors, it will not likely be long until we see the Blazers round out its bench with sufficient talent to become legitimate contenders. And soon.
Denver meanwhile, could present an even tougher challenge to Stephen Curry and the Warriors, given that the Nuggets have already defeated Golden State once this season, and because Denver is so good at scoring the basketball.
The Nuggets have a wealth of defensive issues, but there is no substitute for the firepower the team has, which could keep it in a series even with the loaded Warriors. Nikola Jokic is an absolute wizard creating with the basketball, and the Nuggets have wisely chosen to structure both its first and second unit attacks around him, and the newly acquired Plumlee. Both are astute high post passers capable of creating shots, and the Nuggets have a bevy of shooters to reap the benefits. While Denver does have a bit of a glut with so many guards, the Nuggets will be making some choices on those redundancies this offseason.
That is to say, it seems doubtful the team retains both Will Barton and Gary Harris. That statement also applies to combo forwards Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. Kenneth Faried is likely trade bait too. The Nuggets have plenty of talent, but the roster is in need of some balance, and definitely of some veteran leadership and defense. By adding a premier defending forward, Denver could take several steps forward, and they have the young prospects to offer to acquire it.
It is also difficult to tell whether or not the Nuggets plan to keep Emmanuel Mudiay as its point guard of the future, especially given how well the team has done with 35-year-old guard Jameer Nelson mostly running the show. Also in the mix is Jamal Murray, who appears to be one of the better of the 2016 draft class, howsoever weak it was overall. The future is plenty bright in Denver, but the Nuggets need a big victory tonight to avoid falling behind Portland in that chase that will be the focus of tonight’s game. Both teams are trying hard to sneak into the playoffs.