Game 4: Denver (59-33 SU, 47-45 ATS) at Portland (59-31 SU, 49-40-1 ATS)
When: 7 p.m. ET (TNT)
Free NBA Pick: Under
Best Line Offered: 5Dimes
It will be very hard for either team to be sharp considering the level of effort and the number of minutes that its best players logged in during Game 3‘s four-overtime marathon just two nights ago. Denver’s top scorer, Nikola Jokic, led all players with 65 minutes. To put that number into perspective, he averaged 31.3 minutes per game during the regular season. So he effectively matched the effort of two regular season games in one game.
Jokic’s effort showed. In the fourth quarter, he made three baskets and he didn’t make anything in any of the four overtime periods. Still, he played so many minutes because Denver rides its starters–especially the big three of Jokic, Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap. There is a huge disparity in quality between him and backup Mason Plumlee, who has yet to reach double figures in a playoff game this year.
In addition to Jokic, Murray logged in 55 minutes, 18 more than he had in any other playoff game. His fitness factor is significant as the team’s top three-point shot-taker. Shooters make more shots when they are able to get the most out of their legs and they struggle to shoot when they lack the energy to use their legs as much. Murray’s shooting performance repeatedly has a decisive impact on the over/under result in his team’s games. In the three playoff games in which Denver failed to reach 100 points, Murray was 2-for-16 (12.5%) combined from three.
For the Blazers, Damian Lillard continues to slump. Apart from the 58 minutes for which he played on Friday, perhaps Lillard is tired because of the effort that he had to expend carrying his team to a series victory against the Thunder. Ever since his superhuman effort in Game 1 of the Denver series, he has been very inefficient inside the arc. He has struggled the whole series to shoot the three against the Nuggets‘ top-ranked perimeter defense. Lillard is 7-for-26 (26.9%) from behind the arc thus far.
Lillard is also a victim of the attention that Nugget defenders devote to him. They constantly try to trap him when he has the ball, doubling their coverage on him when he’s within even 30 feet of the basket. Plus, they have been more effective in cutting off and otherwise defending his drives to the basket.
No other Blazer is close to being as prolific as Lillard. CJ McCollum took over for his team and ran a lot of isolation plays during the overtimes. He made some big shots, but missed many as well. Center Enes Kanter is Portland’s other key offensive figure. His injury situation, though, is worsening. Kanter is playing through even more pain, even losing the ability lift his arm. Once the adrenaline from the game wore off, it surely created all the more doubt for Kanter about whether he’ll be fit. He probably separated his shoulder more in addition to injuring his right bursa.
The total set by oddsmakers is too high because it accounts for the scoring potential of the starters. But they will struggle for fitness and both teams will have to rely on its bench players. On Denver’s side, expect to see a lot of bricks from guys like Monte Morris, who is 0-for-12 from three during the playoffs. On Portland’s side, Rodney Hood is the only bench player who has shown anything. He was clutch in Game 3. But he is a bench player because he is inconsistent and he has yet to string together two good shooting performances in a row during the playoffs.