Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers head home in the hopes of taking a 2-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday.
With a chance to take a 2-0 lead in Denver, the Trail Blazers couldn’t cash in on Lillard’s 42-point effort. However, it showed the tenacious nature of the Nuggets and they won’t go down without a fight.
There have been some highlight moments at Moda Center and we’re expecting fireworks in front of a bumper crowd in Portland.
The online sportsbook has the Blazers as four-point favorites, but getting past the MVP favorite is a daunting task.
Nuggets Find Gold at Home
It took another big effort from Nikola Jokic for the Nuggets to square the series at 1-1 on Monday.
The MVP front-runner scored 38 points on an incredible 15-of-20 shooting, which included all six free throws. Jokic was locked in and he needed to be as Lillard caught fire for Portland.
Even with Jokic’s 38 points, it was a team effort. Michael Porter Jr. improved his accuracy and scored 18 points, but it was the contributions of Aaron Gordon, Facundo Campazzo and Paul Millsap that went under the radar.
— The SportsGrail (@thesportsgrail) May 25, 2021
They combined for 40 points, which was sorely lacking in Game One. If the secondary scorers can muster another big showing, Denver has every chance of taking the lead on the road.
However, if Denver wants to progress to the second round, it needs to get to the free throw line. It was the recipe for success in the 128-109 win, where the Nuggets shot 30 three throws.
Coach Michael Malone wanted more aggression after the Game One loss, so expect the Nuggets to drive to the basket more often.
“Yeah, we can be more aggressive, we can attack the basket,” Malone told The Denver Post. “Certain players are not attack-the-basket players, so we are who we are. We have not been a high-volume free throw team all season. But for them to outshoot us from the line 19-8 is something that we have to do a better job of.
“Any time you’re more aggressive, any time you put more pressure on the defense and on the rim, that’s going to be, most times, a big positive.”
NBA betting markets are giving Denver plenty of respect. The last meeting at Moda Center was a 106-105 Denver win, so it’s no stranger to beating Portland on the road.
More Heroics Needed from Lillard
Slowing down Lillard is seemingly impossible, but despite the point guard scoring 42 points, the Blazers couldn’t get the job done in Game Two.
One player scoring 42 of a team’s 109 points is rare, but the Blazers weren’t able to close the gap after starting slowly. Lillard did his best to keep them in the mix and he closed the gap close to halftime, but two late buckets from Denver extended the lead to 12 and that stopped the charge.
Lord HAVE MERCY. Are y’all watching this show @Dame_Lillard is putting on? Dame Time has 20 pts in the 2nd QT — eight 3’s in the game already. This is what separates him Steph from everyone else. Just special.
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) May 25, 2021
Denver had an answer for everything Portland threw at it, including 21 points from C.J. McCollum. He went 9 of 12, so there was nothing wrong with the guard shooting for the Blazers. However, the bench was completely ineffective.
The bench didn’t play long minutes, with Carmelo Anthony, Enes Kanter and Anfernee Simons playing double-digit minutes. They received just 21 points across nine players, including only five points from Anthony.
Portland shot at 47.9 percent, which is good enough to win most games. However, allowing Denver to shoot at 53.5 percent was the biggest contributing factor to the loss.
Defense has been a sore point for Portland throughout the season. It ranks outside the top 20 in points allowed, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage and rebounds.
Considering Denver’s offense ranks inside the top 10 in four of those categories, Portland needs to muster up and play better defense. Having a smaller lineup isn’t ideal, so Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic needs to force Jokic further away from the rim.
Defending better is one option. The other is Lillard scoring 50 point. He’s capable and after knocking down nine three-pointers, he is locked in.
Nuggets vs Blazers Betting Trends
Prior to the Game Two win, Denver had struggled to cover the spread against Portland.
The Nuggets are 1-4 against the spread (ATS) in the last five meetings and 1-5 ATS in the last six games playing on two days’ rest.
They are also 0-4 in the last four road games against a team with a winning home record. However, they defeated Portland on the road during the regular season.
The Nuggets enjoy playing as an underdog. They are 10-4-1 ATS in their last 15 playoff games as an underdog, so we expect the +4 line to hold firm on game day.
Portland is 4-1 in its last five games playing on two days’ rest and 28-13 in its last 41 Thursday games.
A concerning statistic for the Blazers is their record as a favorite. They are 7-23-1 ATS in their last 31 playoff games as a favorite.
Nuggets vs Blazers Pick
Returning home should be the catalyst for the Blazers to get back to their best form.
Game Two was a blip on the radar and we’re confident the Blazers can get back to their best and take a 2-1 lead.
It will require Lillard and McCollum to have another big scoring night, but our focus is limiting Jokic. If he scores 38 points, Denver will likely win. However, they should make the change needed to limit the big man offensively.
Now is the time for Portland to make a stand and we’re backing them.