Game 3: Denver (59-32 SU, 46-45 ATS) at Portland (58-31 SU, 49-39-1 ATS)
When: 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Free NBA Pick: Nuggets ATS
Recommended Sportsbook: 5Dimes
The Trail Blazers bounced back in Game 2 in what was an emotional win for them because they honored a member of the team’s staff who is very close with the players but suffered a serious car accident.
After their emotional Game 1 victory, the Nuggets lacked sharpness and energy from the beginning in Game 2. In Game 1, Denver players had the ball moving fluidly across the court. In Game 2, their lack of ball movement hindered them from finding any offensive rhythm.
An enormous amount of missed easy baskets in front of the rim and of missed wide-open threes also kept Denver from finding rhythm. After an efficient performance in Game 1, the Nuggets converted 34.7% of their field goals and were 6-for-29 (20.7%) from three. Denver also missed 10 free throws. They attempted 26, six more than Portland, but only converted 61.5 % percent of them. Luck was not on their side in regards to shooting efficiency as the ball seemed to go in and out of the rim on so many occasions.
Denver continued to be physically superior. It had 16 more offensive rebounds and attempted 13 more shots than the Trail Blazers. Open shot efficiency can vary wildly from game to game and Denver can easily make Portland pay for its inability to clean up the glass on defense. The Nuggets like to play an inside-out game whereby they exploit the extra attention that the Blazers have to devote to Denver’s bigs. They dish the ball to a post player who kicks it back out behind the arc. Portland’s defenders closed out poorly on Denver’s shooters, who failed to make them learn their lesson. If Denver can merely approach its season three-point average of 35.1, then it can give a major boost to its offense in addition to the extra free throws and second-chance points in front of the rim.
Some of Denver’s offensive issues were self-inflicted. Despite their awareness that shots were not falling, they attempted too many threes in transition. Nugget players settled too often for jumpers, thereby giving in too easily to Portland’s tactic of swarming the post. In addition to a more efficient offense, also expect a more aggressive one that attacks the rim with greater determination. They can be all the more effective inside when Nikola Jokic avoids the perilous foul trouble that he got into during the third quarter.
Their advantage on the offensive glass was so great partly due to Portland forward Moe Harkless’ injury. The Blazers lack options to replace him. For example, Jake Layman started the second half and played all of six minutes because of his ineptitude as a pick-and-roll defender. Rodney Hood played many minutes. He fails to provide the same edge in rebounding and defense that Harkless possesses.
Whereas Harkless’ status is deemed uncertain for Game 3 because of his bad ankle sprain, Jamal Murray, who reaggravated a thigh injury in Game 2, will be ready to play. Murray was off from three and his form and fitness will be crucial for Game 3. Denver is 5-0 SU and 4-1 ATS in the playoffs when Murray scores at least 20 points. It won those games by an average of 10.6 points. Conversely, Denver has lost all four games in which he failed to reach 20 points.
Whereas in Denver’s case we are talking about making simple bunnies in front of the rim, free throws, and open threes, the situation looks more difficult for Portland star Damian Lillard. Lillard fell back down to Earth in Game 2, for which a Denver defense that swarmed him energetically deserves credit. Against Denver’s top-notch perimeter defense, Lillard is shooting 5-for-19 (26.3%) from three in two games so far. His support crew resurrected itself after Game 1 to achieve good scoring balance in Game 2, although the Blazers only managed 97 points. But it’s hard to expect consistency from guys like Al-Farouq Aminu, who has yet to score double digits in consecutive playoff games.