Photo by Markus Spiske
Saying the 2020-21 NBA season was unpredictable would be a massive understatement, and the Portland Trail Blazers were first hand victims.
With injuries to both CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, I think it’s fair to say that the sixth seed is far from the full potential of this roster, but now that everyone is healthy and playing well, can the Blazers really make a playoff run?
The first round matchup of the Denver Nuggets is one that most betters viewed as a toss up, with both teams being evenly matched due to the injury to Jamal Murray. But after splitting Games 1 and 2 on the road and taking home court advantage, you’d have to assume that the Blazers are the favorites.
However, Game 2 perfectly demonstrated the massive holes in this team’s system, all of which the Denver Nuggets were able to take advantage of. Say what you want about the last stretch of the regular season, but the Trail Blazers’ defense is horrendous, and with a matchup against the possible MVP of the league, it’s clear that they have no way to stop the Nuggets’ fast-paced offense.
Nikola Jokic scored an average of 36 points per game through the first two battles, and the Nuggets themselves put up 118.5 points per game. If the Blazers’ 29th ranked defense keeps up in the playoffs, then this series might just be over in 5…
…is what I would say if Portland didn’t have Damian Lillard. Jokic might have put up 36 points per game, but Dame put up 38. He lit the Nuggets up in game two with a 42 point performance and if not for the lack of offense anywhere else, the Blazers would have taken both games on the road. We’ve all seen what Damian Lillard can do in the playoffs, and after a red hot start to this first round series, nobody would be surprised if he did it again. However, Denver’s coach Michael Malone decided to switch Aaron Gordon onto Dame after his explosive 32 point first half, and he was able to slow Lillard down to just 10 points on 1/5 shooting from long range for the rest of the game. This singular defensive adjustment might just be all it takes for the Nuggets to slow down The Letter O and win this series.
In Game 1, Terry Stotts decided to roll with a unique game plan that allowed Nikola Jokic to score while neutralizing his ability to play-make for his teammates. After a 14 point win on the road, it was clear that the game plan could work. So they tried it again in Game 2 and utterly failed due to the Nuggets’ supporting cast stepping up. Paul Millsap poured in 15 points off the bench, Monte Morris and Fucando Campazzo scored 12, and Michael Porter Jr scored a quiet yet efficient 13.
We’ll see how the Blazers decide to play Jokic in Game 3, but don’t be surprised if they try the same game plan once again. We all know that the Blazers fans are some of, if not the best in the NBA, so with 3 of the possible 5 games remaining being played in the Moda Center, I think I would still give the Blazers the slight edge to win this series.