Who wants a shot at the Warriors? The race for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference is on Tuesday night in Portland, where the 35-38 Blazers meet the 35-38 Nuggets.
I’m perpetually two weeks behind on Bill Simmons’ podcast so when I was listening yesterday the discussion about whether or not Portland could give the Warriors a run in the first round was in the first week or two of Kevin Durant‘s injury.
Simmons seemed keen on the possibility that a Jusuf Nurkic-led Blazers squad could take a Warriors team without Durant to six or seven games. Nurkic has been great for his new team since the Nuggets shipped him off for Mason Plumlee last month. Of course, Denver has reaped the benefits of the deal in its own right as well.
His co-host Zach Lowe didn’t seem the least bit skeptical about Golden State rolling through the first round and I think I sit somewhere between the two.
What I know is that Portland has a great home court advantage and that Damian Lillard has taken his game up a notch over the last month, month-and-a-half. Those two factors are enough to lead me to believe Portland wins at least one at home, maybe two. Though I can’t go further than that.
But this conversation took place weeks ago, before Denver made it a race for the Western Conference’s last playoff spot. A 7-2 run from the last day of February to the middle of March got the Nuggets into the eight spot and a little step back since has evened things up with nine games to play.
Portland has taken two of the three games the two teams have played his season, which means another win gives the Trail Blazers what amounts to a two-game lead with the head-to-head tie-breaker.
I do not think that necessarily means the Nuggets will play harder tonight. A taste of the playoffs, however fleeting, sure beats a Lottery pipe dream and Portland takes a huge leg up with a win. I’m thinking we get dagger performances from Lillard and CJ McCollom tonight.
The Nuggets are also off of a terrible loss on their home floor to the Pelicans, which will either provide some extra motive or indicates where this team is at as we approach the finish line.
I fully expect a close, entertaining game that Portland wins and covers with free throws at the end. If we do get a blowout, I don’t see any way it isn’t the Trail Blazers rolling the Nuggets. Portland is just too tough at home for Denver.
Free Pick: Trail Blazers -2