Portland eased their way past the Oklahoma City Thunder, ending their struggles in the first round. The club had been beaten twice in the row in the opening phase of the playoffs over the last two years, suffering defeats to the Golden State Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans.
There is now a huge opportunity for both clubs to reach the Western Conference Finals. The two teams are filled with quality, although neither have a great deal of experience in their ranks.
It will be a fascinating duel between rising stars. Portland’s Damian Lillard has already enjoyed a playoff momentum, sinking a three-pointer from half court on the buzzer to win game five of their series against the Thunder.
Nikola Jokic carried the fortunes of the Nuggets in their win over the Spurs. The two players will be battling throughout the series to carry their team to the Conference Finals.
Although the Nuggets were put under pressure by the Spurs, they displayed great resilience to battle past an experienced team in the post-season. It would have been easy for Malone’s men to crumble under the stress of playing game seven against Gregg Popovich’s men, albeit a San Antonio side at the beginning of a rebuild.
However, Denver’s key men came to the fore to see off the threat, advancing to the Semi-Finals for the first time since the 2008/09 campaign. The Nuggets were knocked back twice in the opening three games of the series, which included a home defeat in game one. Malone’s team held their composure to triumph in three of the four remaining games.
Jokic was the key man as he took his performances to the next level. Even in defeat, the 24-year-old was outstanding – notably scoring 43 points in his side’s loss in game six. He was a dominant presence at both ends of the court, leading the Nuggets in points, rebounds and assists in all seven matches. Jokic was flawless, but it took Jamal Murray time to heat up. He left his team-mate alone to carry Denver in the opening four games.
However, once he found his flow on the court the momentum began to shift towards the Nuggets. It was Murray’s decisive score late in the fourth quarter that proved to be the dagger for the Spurs. The point guard now faces a duel with one of the best in the game in the form of Lillard. Murray cannot afford another slow start as the Trail Blazers have the ability to blow Denver away if they’re not on form from the off.
Portland Trail Blazers
Lillard was operating at the peak of his powers to see off the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. All eyes were on his duel with Russell Westbrook on the court. Both players are among the true elite of the game, although Westbrook’s quality and experience may have given Oklahoma City the edge. However, it did not prove to be the case as Lillard was flawless in all five games. The 28-year-old did not allow his standards to drop over the course of the series.
He drove his team into a 3-1 lead due to his excellence on the court. When it was time to finish off the Thunder it was Lillard with the dagger, sinking a three-pointer as time expired in game five, sending the Trail Blazers and their supporters into raptures. Lillard now has the opportunity to guide Portland into the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2000.
Lillard received support from his team-mates that was crucial in all five matches. CJ McCollum has not always been a player that has risen to the occasion in the post-season. However, he was there to ease the burden with two 30-point performances.
Enes Kanter filled the role vacated by Jusuf Nurkic’s injury, providing the presence around the rim to disrupt the Thunder. Both players have to remain at that level against the Nuggets. Their talent along with the experience built over the last few seasons could see the Trail Blazers advance at the expense of a team that does look an awful lot like Portland sides of the past.
Head to Head
Games Played: 180 Denver Nuggets: 82 Portland Trail Blazers: 98
Millsap, Murray and Jokic were on point once more in Denver, with all three players breaking the 20-point mark in a nine-point triumph. However, the Trail Blazers got on the board to stop a sweep earlier in the month as Lillard and Al-Farouq Aminu played pivotal roles in a 115-108 win.
The Nuggets will be riding the crest of a wave after beating the Spurs in game seven. Their players are younger and will be able to cope with the demand of playing so soon after their previous series. Denver’s confidence will be high and allied with home-court advantage, back them to take game one of the Conference Semi-Finals at odds of 61/1001.61-1650.61-1.650.61 with BetOnline.
However, the experience of Portland will loom large for the rest of the series. Lillard is the best player from both teams on the court and that will play a significant impact in allowing the Trail Blazers to advance to the Conference Finals at odds of 117/1002.17+1171.171.17-0.85 at BetOnline.
Denver Nuggets To Beat Portland Trail Blazers Game One
Monday 29th April 2019 22:30 EST (Tuesday 30th April 03:30 BST)
Portland Trail Blazers To Beat Denver Nuggets Western Conference Semi-Finals