TRAIL BLAZERS (0-0) AT NUGGETS (0-0)
10:30 p.m. ET; TNT
The Denver Nuggets just finished a grueling, hard-fought series against the San Antonio Spurs.
Less than 48 hours later, they have to flip the switch and play the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference semifinals.
Denver survived an intense Game 7 on Saturday night to advance past the first round for the first time in 10 years. It was the first Game 7 win for the organization since 1978 and the first winner-take-all victory in the playoffs since the Nuggets as an eighth seed beat No. 1 Seattle in Game 5 in the first round of the playoffs.
Denver’s quest to reach the Western Conference finals begins Monday at home against the rested and confident Trail Blazers.
“We’re prepared, we’ve been prepared for them all year,” forward Paul Millsap said after the Nuggets’ 90-86 win over the Spurs on Saturday night. “I think we’ve got a pretty good scout on them. Damian Lillard’s on a tear right now. Try to cut his water off and calm him down is going to be key for us.”
It won’t be easy.
Lillard is coming off a career moment against Oklahoma City. He drained a near halfcourt 3-pointer at the buzzer of Game 5 to give Portland a 118-115 win and eliminate the Thunder. Lillard averaged 33 points a game against Oklahoma City and punctuated it with that series-clinching 3-pointer that gave him 50 points for the game.
His backcourt partner, CJ McCollum, averaged 24.4 points in the first round.
“We match up against them well. We always play pretty good against them,” Denver forward Torrey Craig said. “They’ve got two really, really good players, so it’s going to be tough trying to slow those guys down.”
The Nuggets fared well against the Trail Blazers in the regular season. They won three of the four matchups, and in the game they lost, they rested Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.
Denver will be a tired team compared with Portland, but it will at least be healthier. The Trail Blazers lost center Jusuf Nurkic for the season late in the year and Enes Kanter, signed after he was waived by New York after the trade deadline in February, is hurting.
Kanter suffered a left shoulder separation in the Game 5 win over Oklahoma City.
“I think the Blazers are doing a very good job taking care of it. But, I mean obviously, I’m not going to lie, it hurts pretty bad,” Kanter told reporters Friday. “I mean I’m having a hard time changing my shirt or eating food. So it’s a process. We’re just taking it day by day, see how it feels.”
Kanter averaged 13.1 points and 10.2 rebounds in the first round and has spent the time off — Portland clinched Tuesday night — getting treatment from the training staff.
“They just said it’s a separation, it’s normally around a month to just heal it,” he said. “But I mean, you don’t have a month to take off, so I’m just going to push through it.”
If Kanter is compromised, it leaves second-year center Zach Collins dealing with Denver’s Jokic. The All-Star had an impressive playoff debut, averaging 23.1 points, 12.1 rebounds and 9.1 assists against San Antonio. He had two triple-doubles in the series.
“First time in the playoffs and this guy is playing at an unbelievably high level,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.
–Field Level Media