As the Portland Trail Blazers prepare to face the Denver Nuggets in the postseason for the second time in three seasons, Portland’s dynamic duo of centers are healthy and ready to go.
During the 2019 Western Conference semifinals matchup, Enes Kanter was tasked with stepping in as a Blazers starter while working to contain big man Nikola Jokic when Jusuf Nurkic was sidelined with a broken leg.
But now fast forward to the 2021 playoffs and Kanter is in his role he signed up for, while Jusuf Nurkic is back in the starting lineup.
The Blazers know what a luxury it is to have Kanter coming off the bench this time around.
“To have a player like Enes coming off your bench is pretty big-time,” Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said following practice earlier this week. “What he’s done this year averaging a double-double, filling in for Nurk – he’s shown what a valuable player he is to the team both as a starter and coming off the bench.”
This season, the 10-year veteran started 35 of Portland's 72 games, while notching 34 double-doubles, good for 10th most in the NBA.
His knack for snagging a rebound, especially on the offensive glass has not gone unnoticed, but it should also be noted that along with Kanter’s consistency, his durability has also been key for the Blazers success.
The big man played in all 72 games this season averaging 11.2 points and 11.0 rebounds. He shot a career-high 60.4 percent from the field.
Kanter’s teammate, CJ McCollum, who had a standout performance against Denver in the 2019 semifinals series averaging 26.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists, is looking forward to seeing what Kanter will accomplish this postseason.
“A great offensive rebounder, a great finisher around the basket, and someone we’re going to rely upon during the playoffs,” McCollum added.
With Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic being named one of the three finalists for this year’s MVP after averaging 26.4 points per game on 56.6 percent shooting from the field and 38.8 percent from deep to go along with 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists, Nurkic, Kanter, and the rest of the Blazer have their work cut out for them.
“To stop a guy like that it’s a whole team effort, it’s a whole team challenge, so we just got to go out there and try to do the best we can to just wear him down,” Kanter explained.
Work to wear Jokic down is the plan.
With Kanter’s playoff experience of 54 postseason games played including 14 starts, he knows what he needs to do at the other end to free up his teammates.
"I think for me, my personal goal is, I’ve been to the playoffs many times, I can’t even remember how many playoff games that I’ve played, so for me – try to help the young guys as much as I can, but the other thing – is doing what I do best – going out there, boxing guys out, bring energy, bring toughness, and try to set the best picks in the world," Kanter said.
And with Nuggets forwards Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. defending the Blazers three-guard lineup; Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Norman Powell will definitely welcome a Kanter screen.
“If you get those guys open… Norm, Dame, and CJ, they just making everybody else better around them.”