The Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets are locked in the best battle of the first round by far, even at two games apiece heading into a crucial Game 5 in Denver. Both teams have fumbled away home court advantage, but that’s to be expected considering how poorly they’ve both played on the road. Will the home team fall once again here, or will the Nuggets grab hold of this series by the horns? Is the fact that the Nuggets are playing without their point guard finally going to catch up with them, or will they keep chugging along? We’ll tell you where to look at SBR’s top-rated sportsbooks.
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets
Tuesday, June 1, 2021 – 9:00 PM ET at Pepsi Center
Can the Shooting Return?
The Trail Blazers had one of the highest-powered offenses in the league entering the postseason, ranking second in offensive efficiency during the regular season. They also ranked sixth in three-point percentage, and it seemed everything was in order in a Game 1 win over the Nuggets. The Blazers shot 47.5% from three in that game, and their defense was steady, in line with how it’d been down the home stretch of the season. Everything changed in Game 2, and that carried over to Game 3. Jusuf Nurkic’s foul trouble and 21 turnovers spoiled a 42-point night from Damian Lillard and a splendid shooting performance, and the shooting dissipated in Game 3, only to see Nurkic foul out again.
Nurkic’s importance can’t go understated. Not only does the eye test tell you he’s vital to this team’s ability to score and bang down low with Nikola Jokic, the numbers back up what you see — and then some. In the 116 minutes Nurkic has played, the Blazers are outscoring the Nuggets by 23.4 points per 100 possessions, posting an incredible 129.4 offensive rating and an elite 106 defensive efficiency rating. In the 76 minutes he’s been on the bench? The Blazers are being out-scored by 27.4 points per 100 possessions, posting just a 107.2 offensive rating and allowing a boatload of points. That difference is straight up staggering.
The Nuggets had a decent three-point defense this season, but you’d still bet on things turning around in that department for the Trail Blazers, who shot 33.3% from three over the past two games. The thing about that is that those games were in Portland, where the Blazers went 16-22 against the spread this season and played miserably. They’re shooting almost 50% in road games this year, and shot almost 48% in the first two games of this series, played in Denver. This sets up perfectly for them.
Where Did the Offense Go?
The Nuggets were chugging along in this series, scoring 128 points in a Game 2 win, and 120 points in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead. Then, their shots just stopped falling. Denver was 34% from the field in Game 4, and 29.5% from three. While you may say this is just a momentary shooting slump, consider the fact that this team did just shoot 30.6% from three in Game 1, and is without Jamal Murray and Will Barton. Is it that impossible to believe the injuries may be catching up with Denver, and it isn’t going to shoot over 42% from three every game?
It seems likely that the Nuggets will need to get things done down low with Jokic. The bigman obviously steps out and shoots the three plenty, but it will be up to Jokic to get the high-percentage looks required to rescue this offense. Nurkic and Enes Kanter have been problematic for Denver down low, but Jokic is the presumptive MVP. The game rests on his shoulders, and any shooting Denver can get will be gravy.
With all of that said, For our NBA picks, I see tremendous value in the Blazers here, giving them a much better chance at winning than the roughly 45% implied probability at these NBA odds. Portland’s offense has a much longer track record of being good than Denver’s, and the fact that Nurkic has avoided foul trouble all season leads me to believe he should play plenty of minutes again just as he did in Game 1 and Game 4. With him out there, the Trail Blazers shouldn’t lose.
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.