It has been a long time since the NBA has seen a playoff race as hectic as what is going on in the Western Conference this season. Despite being just three games apart in the standings, the 48-32 Portland Trail Blazers are the third seed and the 45-35 Denver Nuggets are ninth. They will play each other in Denver today (9 p.m. ET Monday).
Portland is on a three-game losing streak, which has brought the team back to the pack a bit. There’s now a legit chance that the Blazers will lose the third seed, which looked impossible a week ago. The team looks like it has lost some of the motivation that it had for most of the season.
Denver is now on a five-game winning streak, with all five of those wins coming against teams above .500. The Nuggets have been playing high-energy ball as of late, picking up the pace quite a bit. They need to play well (and get some luck from other teams) to sneak into a playoff spot.
Who will win this massive game? Let’s break down some key variables and then decide on our Portland Trail Blazers vs Denver Nuggets predictions and picks in a bid to beat the USA online sportsbooks.
Which Streaking Center Will Win Matchup Battle?
The Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic and the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic used to be teammates in Denver. Now, they are two of the hottest centers in the Western Conference.
Nurkic has averaged 15.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 2.2 blocks with a 64.2 field-goal percentage in just 28.5 minutes per game over his last 10 contests. In Jokic’s last 15 games, he has put up 23.1 points, 10.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists in 35.6 minutes per contest.
Nurkic is the better defensive player and rim protector, but Jokic’s elite offensive game isn’t easy to contain. He is a major threat to score inside and outside while also being the best big man passer in the NBA. The battle of the boards and when the Blazers are on offense should also be entertaining.
Keep in mind that these two hulking European big men have also been prone to foul trouble at times. That could be another factor to watch.
Can Denver Stay Away from Too Much Iso Ball?
The Blazers have taken a major step forward on defense this season. Despite some regression in the past month, they still rank eighth in the league in defensive efficiency, up from 24th last season.
One of Portland’s key strengths on defense is shutting down ball movement with quick rotations. Opponents average only 20.2 assists per game against the squad, second-lowest in the NBA. Those opponents often like to go one-on-one against the Blazers, but the Blazers have fared well defending those play types.
Denver ranks fourth in the NBA in assists per game (25.2), and its offense gets better when there is maximum ball movement. The Nuggets are 17-3 when they hit the 28-assist threshold, compared to 27-32 in all other games. The team, especially Will Barton, can’t get caught up in endless isolation plays against Portland.
Which Underwhelming Bench Will Perform Better?
When healthy, neither of these teams have terrible benches. However, with Gary Harris out for the Nuggets and Maurice Harkless and Ed Davis missing time recently for Portland, both squads now have below-average depth on paper.
Thankfully for Portland, Davis has been cleared for this Monday game. He is a game-changer with his energy on the glass and efficient finishing around the rim. Other than Davis, the Blazers have a lot of inconsistent or average guys on their bench.
The Nuggets’ best bench player is usually Will Barton, but Gary Harris’ injury means he has to play with the starters. Devin Harris, Mason Plumlee and Trey Lyles lead a somewhat shallow group of reserves.
Both squads need some of their unheralded bench guys to step up, since the two strong starting units should just about play each other to a standstill.
Our Preview’s Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Betting Picks & Predictions
With Nurkic playing so well recently, the former Nugget should be able to check Jokic admirably in a revenge game of sorts. Denver’s bench, especially in terms of guard and wing play, is also a definite weakness right now.
The Blazers have a very good chance to win this game behind their star guard play and what I believe is a slightly better bench at the moment. So in terms of the betting markets, these are the Portland Trail Blazers vs Denver Nuggets predictions for this preview:
- Bettors are taking these two teams’ recent play very seriously in picking the Nuggets as a 4-point favorite. You can find your best odds of Trail Blazers +4.5pts @ odds of -110 with Bovada or 5Dimes. Most other firms have that 4-point spread.
- Both squads have skewed more toward the offensive end as of late. The Nuggets have been better on offense all year, but Portland is finally leaning back that way at the end of a mediocre scoring year for the squad. Bet the over 217.5pts total points @ -110 with BetOnline. It is 218pts with everyone else.