With the NBA playoffs starting at the end of this week, there is still uncertainty for many teams as to what their seeding will be and, for some, if they will even make the playoffs at all. On Monday night, two teams vying for postseason positioning will play as the Portland Trail Blazers (48-32) travel to the Pepsi Center to take on the Denver Nuggets (45-35), with the tipoff scheduled for 9:00 pm ET.
The Denver Nuggets are in straight survival mode at this point, likely needing to win out in order to make the playoffs. They are currently tied for the 8th seed in the Western Conference with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but they would lose a tiebreaker if it came to it. With their final game scheduled against Minnesota on Wednesday, Denver is in control of its own destiny.
While the Trail Blazers have secured a playoff spot, they also have something to play for. With wins in the next two games, they not only can secure home court in the first round, but they can also get to 50 wins and secure the number three seed in the West. They currently hold that third seed, but the Utah Jazz are only one game behind them in the standings and those two match up in their season finale on Wednesday.
The spread comes in at Portland Trail Blazers +4 and the Denver Nuggets -4. The over/under for total points scored is set at 218.
Damian Lillard Looks to Get Trail Blazers Back on Track
While winning the next two games would be nice for the Trail Blazers, the biggest worry for Portland right now is just getting back on track to playing good ball. The Blazers have lost six of their last ten games, including a 105-116 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday. If they carry their inconsistent play into the postseason, it may be an early out in a loaded Western Conference.
The entire season the Trail Blazers have been relying on their two-headed monsters at guard with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Lillard has averaged 26.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game. McCollum has followed closely behind with 21.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. When they are right, there may not be too many teams that have a better backcourt.
Nuggets Look to Claim Last Playoff Spot
While the Nuggets may lack a legitimate superstar, they certainly have one in the making in Nikola Jokic. At only 23 years old, Jokic is averaging a double-double this season with 18.3 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. He also adds 6.1 assists per game to boot. In their last game, a 134-115 win over the LA Clippers, Jokic had a triple-double with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
Aside from Jokic, the Nuggets have relied on a balanced attack all season long. This season they have seven players that average double digits in scoring including Paul Millsap (15), Jamal Murray (16.7 ppg), Trey Lyles (10.1), Nikola Jokic (18.3), Gary Harris (17.7), Wilson Chandler (10.1) and Will Barton (15.5).
In fact, in their last five games, the Nuggets have had four different players lead in scoring. While a balanced attack can be beneficial throughout the course of the season, it can sometimes be detrimental not to have a clear superstar to rely on in the later stages of a game, particularly in the playoffs.
One player to keep an eye on is Will Barton as he has had played really well as of late. In their game on Saturday, Barton scored 31 points, including making 5 of 9 from three.
Nuggets Win Again
At this point, the Nuggets have been playing really good ball, winning five straight coming into Monday night’s game. Additionally, with more on the line, I think the Nuggets take advantage of the recent woes of the Trail Blazers and win this game. Take the Denver Nuggets -4.