Five things to watch for as Blazers/Nuggets moves to Portland
Blazers vs. Nuggets
by James Ham, NBC Sports Bay Area, NBA Reporter
The Nuggets hit the Trail Blazers with a right hook to open their second round series. Portland countered with a 97-90 victory on Wednesday to tie the series and steal away home court advantage.
With the next two games at Moda Center, the Blazers have a golden opportunity to take full control of the series.
It won’t be easy. Michael Malone has his team playing at an extremely high level. But Portland ran a 32-9 record at home this season and are 3-0 in Rip City during the playoffs.
Here are five things to watch as the second round series heats up in Portland...
Will Enes Kanter’s arm fall off?
Kanter went from Knicks castoff to one of the most important players on the Trail Blazers’ roster in a matter of a few months. A gruesome lower leg injury to Jusuf Nurkic opened a door for the veteran big and he’s played extremely well.
A shoulder injury has Kanter fighting more than just Nikola Jokic. Portland has other bigs to turn to, but none of them can match Kanter’s 15.3 points and 9.6 rebounds through seven postseason games.
Whether he’s on the injury list or not, it’s apparent that the 7-footer isn’t 100 percent. Get out the KT tape and a whole lot of ice. The Blazers are going to need Kanter if they hope to survive the second round.
Lillard dropped 39 points on the Nuggets in the opener, but Malone’s club clearly schemed to limit the All-Star guard in Game 2. Denver held Lillard to just 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting, including 1-of-7 from long range.
Every great scorer faces adversity. Lillard is averaging over 31 points per game through the first seven games of the postseason and was due for a rough game.
How Lillard responds in Game 3 might determine the outcome of this series.
Moe or no Moe?
Moe Harkless underwent an MRI on his right ankle and is questionable for Game 3. While the the versatile forward has posted modest numbers all season, he’s come up big in the postseason.
During the regular season, Portland posted a 34-19 record when Harkless started. In those 53 games, Harkless posted an offensive rating of 114 and a defensive rating of 109 and ran a positive 9.3 per game in the plus/minus category.
Lillard and CJ McCollum are the stars of the team, but Harkless is a catalyst player and his absence could prove problematic.
With Lillard on lockdown, the Trail Blazers received contributions from almost every player that stepped on the court Wednesday evening. They are going to need that type of balanced approach if they hope to take a lead in the series.
McCollum posted 20 points in Game 2 to lead Portland, which is a welcomed sign after two quiet games. Rodney Hood had a nice showing off the bench and Al-Farouq Aminu chipped in a double-double.
If Lillard doesn’t take over, Portland is going to need all hands on deck, especially if Kanter and/or Harkless are limited.
Jokic has developed into an incredible weapon in his fourth NBA season and coach Malone is running his entire offense through the 7-footer.
Like the Nuggets did with Lillard, Portland changed their approach to defending the All-Star center in Game 2. They got physical with Jokic and limited him to 16 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in 37 minutes of action.
He can beat you in a lot of ways. He’s incredible in post, can hit from the outside and he’s the best passing big in the game. Terry Stotts has a fleet of bigs to throw at him and he might need to give different looks all game long if he hopes to limit Jokic’s productivity.