It appeared that the Portland Trail Blazers may have been a bit rusty in Game 1, but they solved the problem in Wednesday’s 97-90 Game 2 victory over the Denver Nuggets to even their Western Conference semifinal series at one game apiece. It was an odd win for Portland, as their floor leader Damian Lillard scored only 14 points on 5-for-17 shooting.
Six Blazers scored in double-figures to help lead the team win, led by CJ McCollum’s 20 points. Denver’s Nikola Jokic had another big game with 16 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, but it wasn’t enough to power the Nuggets to a second straight win. The series tie will be broken when the teams meet in Portland for Game 3 on Friday.
Here’s everything you need to know about the series.
No. 2 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers
How to watch Game 3
- Date: Friday, May 3
- Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
- Location: Moda Center — Portland, Oregon
- TV channel: ESPN
- Live stats: GameTracker
- Online streaming: WatchESPN
- Odds: Will update when available
Playoff series schedule, results (Series tied, 1-1)
*All times Eastern
- Game 1 (at DEN): Nuggets 121, Trail Blazers 113 (Box Score)
- Game 2 (at DEN): Trail Blazers 97, Nuggets 90 (Box Score)
- Game 3 (at POR): Friday, May 3, 10:30 p.m. — TV: ESPN
- Game 4 (at POR): Sunday, May 5, 7 p.m. — TV: TNT
- Game 5 (at DEN): Tuesday, May 7, TBD — TV: TNT
- Game 6* (at POR): Thursday, May 9, TBD — TV: ESPN
- Game 7* (at DEN): Sunday, May 12, TBD — TV: TBD
Odds and Analysis
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Trail Blazers: After getting swept in the first round of the playoffs last season, Lillard and the Trail Blazers looked like a team on a mission this time around. Led by Lillard, who put up 50 points in that famous Game 5 victory, they cruised to a 4-1 series win over the Thunder to punch their ticket to the second round. Now though, they’ll face a tough test in a Nuggets team that had to walk through fire against the Spurs and have proven they can handle the postseason. Can Lillard keep up his all-world play and power the shorthanded Blazers to their first Western Conference finals since 2000?
Nuggets: Well, it wasn’t easy, but the Nuggets did just enough to take down the Spurs in the first round. There were moments in that matchup where the Nuggets’ youth and lack of playoff experience showed up, but in the end, their talent won out. There was a reason this Nuggets team won 54 games and finished second in the West. Led by Nikola Jokic, they’ve got a lot of talented young kids on this team. But now that they’ve made it to the playoffs, and won a series, do they have what it takes to make a deep run? This series will be a big test.
Matchups to watch
1. Nikola Jokic vs. Enes Kanter: You have to give Kanter a lot of credit for how he played in the first round. He’s relentless on the glass, and he played with a lot of toughness against the Thunder. He earned the right to talk some trash on Twitter after that series.
But at the same time, there was a reason why he got waived halfway through the season and was still available in mid-February; he can’t guard people on a consistent basis. It’s one thing to get away with him being on the floor against a guy like Steven Adams, whose game is more about brute strength than skill, but that won’t be the case against Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets’ main man is one of the best big men in the league, and a wizard on the offensive end. He is going to feast on Kanter, especially considering the Blazers’ big man isn’t 100 percent due to a shoulder injury.
2. Backcourts: There’s no question that the Nuggets have the advantage down low. With Jusuf Nurkic out for the season, that’s just not a contest. Likewise, the Trail Blazers have a clear edge in the backcourt. Lillard is playing at a borderline MVP level right now, and was tremendous throughout the entire first-round series versus the Thunder, not just in his heroic Game 5. Then there’s his buddy C.J. McCollum, who also put together an excellent performance in the first round. Together, they form one of the best backcourts in the league, and are going to be a handful for Denver.
The Nuggets have some young talent of their own in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, but neither is on Lillard or McCollum’s level, and they’ve also had some rough moments in the playoffs so far. Aside from just the scoring aspect though, the real question in this matchup is what version of the Nuggets defense shows up. They got torched early on against the Spurs by guys like Derrick White, who drove into the lane at will. And no offense to White, but he’s no Lillard or McCollum.
All season long, the Nuggets had a strong defense, and it showed up again in the first half of Game 7 against the Spurs, when they were fantastic. Keeping up that kind of effort was too much though, and they wilted in the fourth quarter, and almost gave the game away. How will their perimeter defense be able to hold up against Lillard and Co. for seven games? That’s a question that could decide the series.
3. 3-point shooting: In the regular season, these two teams were almost identical from the 3-point line. They each took just about 31 triples per game, and hit a bit over 35 percent. But in the postseason, the Trail Blazers have been elite from downtown, making over 40 percent of their 3s. That was a big reason for their victory in the first round, as they out-shot a Thunder team with almost no shooting.
They won’t have quite that advantage against the Nuggets, who, when they get hot, can be deadly from behind the arc. But for as hot as the Nuggets can get from downtown — in Games 2-4 against the Spurs they made 54-of-117 3s, and went 3-1 in those games — they’re also liable to go ice cold. In the other three games, they went 14-of-72, including a 2-of-20 performance in Game 7, which they still somehow managed to win.
With a series that’s pretty evenly matched, 3-point shooting could be the deciding factor. Both teams are more than capable from downtown, and whichever group gets hot will likely advance to the WCF.
Series prediction, pick
Nuggets in seven: The Nuggets had a rough time in the first round, but they conquered that challenge. It might not have been pretty, but they proved to themselves that they belong in the postseason, and now know what it takes to win. That will go a long way as they continue into the second round.
Once again boasting home-court advantage, where they’ve only lost eight times all season, including the playoffs, the Nuggets should sneak by in a close series that might see the home team win every game. Yes, Lillard has been tremendous, but the Nuggets at least, in theory, have a few guys who can slow him down. The Blazers, on the other hand, have no hope against Jokic, who is going to feast on their weakened frontcourt.