After a 72 game season littered with ups and downs, the Denver Nuggets find themselves locked in as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with the No. 6 Portland Trail Blazers lying in the wait.
Denver and Portland clashed in the regular-season finale, with the Blazers taking the 132-116 victory, although the outcome yielded positive endgames for both teams. Nevertheless, the Nuggets will open up their series with the Blazers this weekend, and it will surely be a good test for Denver out of the gate in the postseason.
Under head coach Michael Malone, the Nuggets have struggled to get off to hot starts in opening-round series, winning in 7 games against both the Spurs and Utah Jazz in back-to-back seasons. While Denver has managed to overcome obstacles in the first round, the Nuggets will have to be sharp from the jump due to the plethora of injuries the team is nursing, including the loss of Jamal Murray.
That said, Denver’s tenacity was on full display down the stretch in the regular season. Led by MVP Nikola Jokic and the emergence of Michael Porter Jr., the Nuggets solidified their presence in the Western Conference, and with no clear frontrunner in the conference this season, the opportunity is there for the taking.
This season, the first round of the playoffs provides the Nuggets with the chance to exact some revenge against the Blazers after they sent Denver packing during the second round of the 2018-2019 playoffs. The Nuggets have made a series of strides between now and then, and with Jokic playing at an elite level, the team is primed to come out firing.
At the same token, the series does not start until the weekend, and we have seen the Nuggets look rusty after multiple days of rest. Compound this with Denver’s lag out of the gate in the playoffs, and it will be intriguing to see how the team plays from the get-go.
There’s a bevy of storylines to monitor throughout this series, including Carmelo Anthony playing in a playoff series against his former team, Jokic clashing with former teammate Jusuf Nurkic and the expected departure of Blazer’s head coach Terry Stots following the end of the season, barring an unforeseen championship run.
The ladder makes Portland a dangerous wild card play, and given the fact that they are relatively healthy, the Blazers could be a live dog in the first round.
The Nuggets are listed at just -120 to win their opening-round series against the Blazers, which seems like solid value for a team who has shown an ability to compete with upper-echelon teams in the West. Clearly, the Blazers health and depth have earned Portland respect in the eyes of the oddsmakers.
Denver has been disrespected all season long. Jokic has been especially disrespected despite his ability to move the needle in every game he plays in. There is no question the first round will be difficult for Denver, but with Jokic ready to rock and the rest of the roster ready to roll, meaning the time is now for the Nuggets to get going in the playoffs.
The DSB boys talked about the Nuggets-Blazers series on Monday’s installment of the Denver Sports Betting show. Catch the DSB show Monday-Friday from 3-4p on Mile High Sports Radio 98.1 FM or stream live anytime at milehighsports.com.