The bracket is set. Regardless of whether the Clippers purposefully tried to avoid the Blazers because of their winning streak is irrelevant because now the end game is in sight and the Nuggets are responsible for slaying the Blazers. All that matters is the championship. The banner. The hometown parade. And the glory. But for the presumptive MVP, Nikola Jokic, to have a chance at the trophy, he has to go through the Blazers, a team that has won 8 of their last 10, 10 of their last 12, and most importantly, a team that has one of the clutchest players in the league, Damian (Dame) Lillard. Let’s rewind the tape on the Nuggets and the Blazers.
Before we get into the stats from the season, let’s just look at the game on May 16th which was the last game of the regular season for both teams. Ironically, the game was between the Nuggets and the Blazers in which the Blazers easily pulled away and won 132-116. If we look at the scores from each quarter, we see that the Blazers iced the game in the first quarter. They put up 43 points and the Nuggets were never able to close the gap. The Blazers are explosive and we know Dame can drop 50 any day at any time along with CJ McCollum. If Dame is on his game, the Blazers have a good chance to achieve an upset in the series because without Jamal Murray, the Nuggets are limited in their explosive power. In my opinion, the Nuggets need Michael Porter Junior to show up in the play-offs because we already know what Jokic can and will do. Michael Porter Jr has shot 44% from 3 and if he keeps on averaging around 20 a game, the Nuggets will more than likely breeze past the Blazers. The absence of Jamal Murray means someone else has to step up and I believe that man will be Michael Porter Jr.
The Blazers have been known for poor defense, but with the addition of players like Robert Covington, they have begun to improve it. The Blazers need to ensure that Nikola Jokic, who is averaging 26 points, is contained, and the man for the job is Nurkic, a center who literally came from the Nuggets. He will have to come up big to restrict Jokic because if they are able to restrict Jokic, the offense can easily fall apart as Jokic is a major part of how the offense is run because of the points and assists. On the offensive side, the Blazers can already depend on Dame to show up, but they also need McCollum and either Kanter or Powell to come up big because the Nuggets are definitely going to put up over 100 points in most games in the series.
On the other hand, the Nuggets are already the favorites and thus they just need to play how they have been playing throughout the season and Porter Jr has to fill in the gap left open by Murray’s injury. There is no stopping Damian Lillard, so they just need to try to restrict him because without him, the offense of the Blazers can easily be dismantled.
Essentially, in my opinion, I see this round as a battle between the stars: Damian Lillard vs Nikola Jokic. Many had Lillard in the MVP conversation and now is his chance to show everyone that the NBA world made a mistake by assuming it’s definitely Jokic. Both the offenses depend on them to not only score but also get others the ball. Whichever star excels will probably win the series, and in my opinion, Nikola Jokic will outduel Lillard because of his playmaking ability as a shooter and a passer from anywhere on the field and his historic MVP run as a center that will likely continue through the play-offs, and thus the Nuggets will win the series in 6: 4-2.
Top Image: Getty Images