Last updated April 19th, 2021
The intensity of the NBA playoffs has increased to another level as we have moved from the first round to the second. Now, only eight teams remain.
Two of the four Western Conference squads still fighting are the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers and the second-seeded Denver Nuggets. Their series kicks off today in Denver (10:35 p.m. ET Monday on TNT).
Portland dismantled the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. The matchup of All-Star point guards clearly went the way of the Blazers’ Damian Lillard rather than the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook. The Blazers’ role players all did a better job of hitting their shots, as well.
The Nuggets needed seven games to finish off the pesky San Antonio Spurs. Denver’s offense struggled at times in the first round, but its defense was mostly good. We’ll see if they have the energy to put forth a strong effort in Game 1 with a very short break between series.
This preview will break down the first game of this NBA playoffs series before deciding on your best betting options via our concluding Portland Trail Blazers vs Denver Nuggets predictions and Game 1 picks.
Will Enes Kanter Be Playable?
A big factor in the Trail Blazers’ surprisingly easy series win over the Thunder was how well Kanter was able to play in his matchup against OKC’s Steven Adams. Portland’s starting center averaged 13.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2 assists in 29.2 minutes per game, shooting 54.9 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from the free-throw line.
The Thunder failed to properly attack Kanter’s deficiencies on defense with their offensive game plan. He wasn’t forced to move around as much as usual, which helped him stay out of foul trouble and have energy to score efficiently and rebound.
The Nuggets’ offense revolves around center Nikola Jokic. He is dangerous in many areas and play types. Denver will need to confuse and tire out Kanter with lots of different actions to force the Blazers to play less experienced big men against Jokic.
Will Jamal Murray Stay Confident?
Murray’s improvement throughout the Nuggets’ first-round series was a big factor in their win. In the first three games, he was bad on offense aside from a 22-point fourth quarter in Game 2. He averaged 15.7 points, 2 assists and 2 turnovers per game on a 46.6 true-shooting percentage in those contests overall.
In Games 4 through 7, though, Murray was noticeably more aggressive and confident. He put up averages of 21.5 points, 5.8 assists and 1.8 turnovers per game on a 58.8 true-shooting percentage.
Overall, his performance was essentially the barometer for the Nuggets’ success in this series. He was much better in their wins and much worse in their losses.
Portland has a pair of excellent high-volume scorers on the perimeter in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Denver is going to have a lot of trouble in Game 1 and in this series as a whole if Murray can’t somewhat keep up with their production.
Which Team’s Power Forward Strategy Will Win Out?
The power forward position is in a very interesting place in today’s NBA. Traditionally, it has been a bigger player who prefers to play in the paint and mix it up for rebounds and interior scoring. Now, though, teams are playing smaller, more versatile players at that spot, or even guys who can initiate the offense.
Portland’s main 4 man is Al-Farouq Aminu. The sleek combo forward spends much of his time on offense spotting up from the three-point line and occasionally slashing to the rim if he has a lane. Versatility is his calling card, rather than sheer strength or size. On Denver’s side, there’s Paul Millsap, who is more of a bruiser. He posts up quite a bit and also can facilitate for his teammates when he has the ball.
Aminu and Millsap both have what it takes to outplay each other if they are on their game. If Aminu’s three-point shot is falling, he can force Millsap out of his comfort zone on defense. If Millsap is aggressive down low on offense, Aminu doesn’t really have the strength to keep him away from his spots.
Our Preview’s Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Game 1 Betting Picks & Predictions
I see this game as essentially a coin flip. People often say the first game is a great opportunity for the road team to steal a win because both teams are feeling each other out and I think that will be the case here.
Denver’s lack of playoff experience seemed to affect their composure at various points against the Spurs. The Blazers didn’t seem daunted at all against the Thunder.
Like the Nuggets’ Game 1 loss to the Spurs, I can see them playing tight and missing a lot of shots. Fatigue from the San Antonio series could also carry over for them. For this Game 1 preview, I like the shape of these Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets predictions:
- The Nuggets are favored by four points at every significant USA betting outlet. I see value in betting on the Trail Blazers +4 @ best odds of -105 with BetOnline.
- As stated above, I think tiredness will affect Denver’s ability to hit outside shots and push the pace in transition. For the second of the Game 1 picks, I advise putting money on the under 216 total points being scored @ -105 with Intertops or Bookmaker.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.