Five questions I keep being asked, with my attempts at answers, on the morning of Game 3:
WHO WILL START IF MAURICE HARKLESS CAN’T GO?: A great question because Terry Stotts is one of the most unpredictable coaches you’ll ever find when it comes to his lineups.
If you just want to move up the most effective bench player capable of handling the position, you would plug Rodney Hood into that spot. In this series, Hood has been borderline spectacular off the bench.
But do you want to take Hood away as the No. 1 scoring option for that bench unit? And he gets many more opportunities to score as a reserve than he would as a starter, when Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Enes Kanter are getting a majority of the shots
Throughout his tenure as the Portland coach, Stotts has been reluctant to mess with his bench unit when a starter is out. More often, he has reached down past the rotation players and plugged in a player who hasn’t been part of that rotation.
That would likely mean Jake Layman, who started the second half of Game 2 when Harkless, fighting an ankle sprain, wasn’t available after halftime of Game 2. Layman had not played at all in Game 1 of the series.
My hunch would be Layman would get the start. And I do believe it’s possible his movement on offense would be a help in the halfcourt. And his activity on the boards might be a boost on the other end.
WILL THE PORTLAND DEFENSE BE THE SAME IN GAME 3?: It might change. And it probably should. Yes, the Blazers did a great job of holding down the Nuggets’ shooting percentages by packing the middle and swarming Nikola Jokic off the dribble. But keep in mind, the Blazers were fortunate to get away with that defense Wednesday night.
Denver people, by its own calculations, had 17 uncontested three-point shots – many of them from the easiest spot on the floor, the corner. The. Nuggets, by their count, made just three of their 17 open threes. In the first quarter Denver missed corner threes time after time.
It would be wrong to believe that will continue. While the Nuggets were only a middle-of-the-road three-point shooting team during the regular season, even average teams make those shots on a fairly consistent basis.
The Trail Blazers are going to have to do a better job of contesting the threes.
WILL OFFICIATING CHANGE IN GAME 3?: I believe it will. The league and its referees are constantly perusing video of these games and they had to see the number of times Jokic hacked Portland shooters. I wouldn’t expect him to continue to get away with that.
I would also assume they’d be watching his time spent in the lane more closely. He camps in there.
SHOULD PLAYERS HAVE BEEN SUSPENDED FOR THIS GAME?: I would say definitely. The NBA rulebook makes no mention of players leaving the area of the bench to participate in an altercation during a timeout being exempt from penalty:
Rule 12 (A, Section VII, c): During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their (bench.) Violators will be subject to suspension, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000.
As you can see, there’s a word missing in the online version of the rulebook, which is included here in parenthesis. As you can also see, there is no mention of players being exempt from the rule during a timeout.
And another consideration in this case is that Jamal Murray dashed on the court to actually START the altercation. And he did so under the false assumption that Enes Kanter intentionally did harm to one of his teammates. In fact, Kanter was pushed into that player by Jokic – a full, two-handed push, which, by the way, should have been Jokic’s sixth foul.
For me, the fact that Murray misread the situation and caused a fracas without real provocation should count for something, too.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO THE BLAZERS TO WIN THESE TWO HOME GAMES?: Critical, I would say. They have taken away Denver’s homecourt advantage but losing a home game would mean Portland would need another win at Denver to capture the series. That would be difficult in a Game 5 situation and VERY difficult in a Game 7.