2019 Western Conference Semifinals Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets
It’s been 10 years since either the Nuggets or the Trail Blazers danced in a conference finals. That’ll change after the two teams finish duking it out for a chance to get slaughtered by the conference’s two juggernauts -- Houston and Golden State -- in the 2019 Semifinals. Though the Nuggets won the regular-season series, 3-1, we honestly don’t care about what happens in the first 82. It means nothing, and the Trail Blazers are a completely different team heading into their postseason meeting. What we can promise is that this series will be a track meet, featuring two of the NBA's top 10 offenses.
Why Portland Wins: For those who take stock in regular season basketball, Oklahoma City swept Portland during its regular-season series. Obviously, that meant little as a Trail Blazers team missing Jusuf Nurkic, who was enjoying a career year, effortlessly dismantled the NBA’s fourth-best defense in five games. Damian Lillard stated his case as the world’s best point guard by publicly humiliating Russell Westbrook (we are going to relax here because my God) for 33.0 points. Lehigh alum -- S/o to the University -- CJ McCollum bobbed and weaved his way for 24.4. And a trio of Enes Kanter, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu capitalized off the Bucket Bros. dribble penetration by knocking down open jumpers, and finishing feeds at the rim. If Portland’s role players continue to step up -- Enes Kanter, who was once viewed as unplayable on a winning team due to his defense held his own in Round 1 -- and Denver shows the effects of a seven-game slugfest with Gregg Popovich’s Spurs, book the Blazers for the David role.
Why Denver Wins: Portland possesses depth but not much scoring outside of “The Bucket Bros.” That’s not the case for Denver, who faces similar issues as Boston -- so many elite scorers you wonder how anybody can get in rhythm. However, they’ve found ways to balance out the scoring, as four players averaged double-figures in Round 1 including “The Skilled Sloth, Nikola Jokic, who messed around and tallied nearly a triple-double (23.1 points, 12.1 rebounds, 9.1 assists).in the win over the Spurs. What makes the Nuggets different from everybody else in the league is the Jokic factor. A unicorn-type center, the big man, acts like a de facto point guard, which subsequently opens up scoring opportunities for everyone else. Not only does Jokic draw opposing big men away from the rim with his capabilities on the perimeter, which opens up backdoor cuts for his teammates, but his otherworldly court vision also sets the tone for Denver’s unselfish style. Enes Kanter could be in huge trouble here. The last thing you want to see is Kanter consistently being forced to guard on the perimeter. That’s ugly, breh.
Who Wins: Nuggets in 6. I want to pick Portland badly just for the Lehigh factor. Even though I don’t think Denver’s that great of a playoff team, I still have to go with the Nugs in 6.