2021 NBA Playoffs: West First Round – (3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Portland Trailblazers

Daily staff picks

Schedule and Results

Game

Away

Home

Date

Time

TV

Results

Game 1:
POR leads 1-0


5/22/21

10:30 PM EST

ESPN

Blazers - 123

Nuggets - 109

Game 2:
Series tied 1-1


5/24/21

10:00 PM ET

TNT

Blazers - 109 Nuggets - 128

Game 3:
DEN leads 2-1

5/27/21

10:30 PM ET

NBATV

Nuggets - 120 
Blazers - 115

Game 4:
Series tied 2-2

5/29/21

4:00 PM ET

TNT

Nuggets - 95 
Blazers - 115

Game 5:
DEN leads 3-2

6/1/21

9:00 PM ET

NBA TV

Blazers - 140
Nuggets - 147

Game 6:
DEN wins series 4-2

6/3/21

8:00 PM ET

TNT

Nuggets - 126 
Blazers - 115

West First Round – (3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Portland Trailblazers – Series preview

(3) Denver Nuggets

All hail my MVP pick for the 2020-2021 season Nikola Jokic. Yes, I’m aware that folks think this is the WORSE of years for the NBA MVP race. That is sadly unfortunate. We hold Wilt Chamberlain to this high regard and when Jokic’s name pops up next to his that’s now an issue? Regardless, the Nuggets rightfully earned their spot as the third-best team in the Western Conference. This was largely due to Jokic’s presence and ability to stay on the floor for EVERY game in the Nuggets’ regular season.

Their season follows up losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in last year’s Western Conference Finals. Somehow someway the Nuggets forced themselves back from 3-1 deficits against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers. The 2020 Playoffs, played in the Orlando campus, dubbed the Nuggets as the “underrated” team. However, this season the tables have turned as the expectation is higher. Down guard, Jamal Murray to a season-ending injury the biggest question is finding scoring from the backcourt.

The beautiful part of Jokic’s game is that he plays as a facilitator towards his teammates. However, without Murray’s scoring ability either Gary Harris, Monte Morris, and Will Barton will all be included with expectations to shoot well or give Denver a well-balanced offensive output from their backcourt. This excludes the bigger challenge for Denver and that’s defending Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum on the defensive end. Enter in Austin Rivers who isn’t the most sought-after free agent but a backcourt player that is low risk and high reward in moments he can defend and hit shots.

(6) Portland Trailblazers

The injury bug never seems to ignore Portland year after year. C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic missed significant time this season. Yet, the Blazers carried on with Damian Lillard and secured a playoff berth by clinching the 6th seed. The Blazers ended last season by waving the white flag to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2020 Western Conference Playoffs series. I say that due to the fact that Dame Time didn’t even play in Game 5 of that series. This year, the Blazers also avoided the Play-in Tournament. A trip down memory lane can tell you that Lillard was passionate about returning to play the 2020 season finish under the condition he could have a shot to make the playoffs.

Last year’s NBA bubble finish to win over the 8th seed from the Memphis Grizzlies was the first time we saw some sort of requirement to lock in a seed in NBA history. While Portland made sure to capitalize on the seeding games they never turned the corner to compete more with the eventual champions Los Angeles Lakers. After a 5 game series and early exit home, what do we have in store for 2021?

Portland enters its 8th straight playoffs (Lillard’s as well), and the best they have to show is a winless Western Conference Finals series against the Warriors in the 2018-2019 season.

Top players to watch

Damian Lillard: 2020-2021 season

  • 28.8 PPG
  • 4.2 RPG
  • 7.5 APG

Nikola Jokic: 2020-2021 season

  • 26.4 PPG
  • 10.8 RPG
  • 8.3 APG

Where should the money go?

The toughest part of the Western Conference is determining how well teams like Denver and Portland will come out during the playoffs. Both teams to me are equally matched and we know two incredible players like Jokic and Lillard are out for vengeance from last year.

This series should build similar excitement from Denver’s series against Utah in last year’s 2020 Playoff run. A foreseeable ping pong match where teams may not get a one-up on each other until later in the series. Will Barton has been ruled out of Game 1 for the Nuggets and it’s the next man up. The scary thing for Portland and according to my “defense wins championships” bias is that Portland ranks at the bottom of the league in Team Defensive Rating. It doesn’t mean they can’t outscore the Nuggets but I wouldn’t be surprised if Portland drops a game by double-digits in this series.

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