After falling to the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Semifinals in 2019, the Denver Nuggets made it to the conference finals last season.
A large part of that successful playoff run can be credited to Jerami Grant’s contributions both on the offensive and defensive end. His assignments night in and night out to defend some of the league’s elite players including LeBron James, Donovan Mitchell and Paul George were key to Denver’s deepest playoff run since 2009.
But the Nuggets don’t have Grant this time around. Instead, he agreed to a three-year deal with the Pistons last November, leaving Denver with one less player equipped to guard the league’s elite players.
It’s a responsibility that Aaron Gordon will soon take on in the postseason. But head coach Mike Malone knows it’s on the seven-year forward to have an instant impact.
“Getting Aaron Gordon was a great acquisition for us at the trade deadline, and we as a team, have been really successful ever since that trade deadline,” Malone said Thursday. “But now you are playing a team that doesn’t have that elite wing, that wing that you are so concerned about. Portland’s got three elite guards that put up unbelievable numbers every single night, and as you’ve all seen, we’ve been using Aaron Gordon to guard those guards. Whether it’s Norman Powell, CJ McCollum or Damian Lillard, and that’s going to be a hell of a challenge, not just for Aaron Gordon.
“He was excited when he got here because he knew the type of team that we had, the success that we’ve had in the past. He wanted to be a part of it, and now that the playoffs are here, this is going to be a great opportunity for Aaron to prove himself on both ends. I have no doubt that he will.”
Gordon, who had been a reported interest of the Trail Blazers, was traded at the NBA’s trade deadline on March 25 in exchange for veteran shooting guard Gary Harris, rookie R.J. Hampton and Denver's protected 2025 first-round pick went to the Magic. Orlando also included forward Gary Clark in the deal.
Since going all-in on Gordon, the Nuggets have gone 21-7 and boast one of the league’s best records following the trade deadline. Gordon’s impact has undeniably been felt since his arrival, but he could soon be the difference-maker in the first-round series vs. the Blazers.
“We know Portland’s a good team,” Gordon said. “They got a lot of guards; they’ve got a lot of fighters on their team. So, they’re not backing down from any challenge. We got to take care of home court. That’s the biggest thing, take care of home court on Saturday and start with Game 1. We know it’s a long series.”
Gordon says he plans to elevate his game by being a “tenacious defender,” and being aggressive. With Jamal Murray and Will Barton still sidelined, the Nuggets forward will also have an opportunity to showcase his offensive firepower.
“I got to play my game,” Gordon added. “I really got to show what I can do on the offensive end and do whatever I can to help my team win.”
Gordon will suit up in the playoffs for only the second time in his career as the Blazers and Nuggets take the court on Saturday for Game 1. It will be the first time in seven days either team has participate in game activity.
“Having this week of preparation is a blessing and curse,” Malone noted. “It’s a blessing because you get a lot of time to prepare, you get some time mentally and physically to give your players some rest. But I also think there’s a part of our guys, I’m sure the Portland players, hey man, let’s start this thing up. Let’s get playing, because we have not had this kind of rest the whole season.
“Saturday night can’t come soon enough.”