Trail Blazers

Denver coach Mike Malone: 'Can we guard the 3, somehow, some way?'

Trail Blazers

Denver Coach Mike Malone was very open about the challenges his team faces on defense in attempting to defeat the Trail Blazers in their first-round playoff matchup that begins Saturday night in Denver.

Malone was asked Thursday about the biggest problems the Nuggets’ defense will face.

“I think the thing that scares me the most is the three-point line,” he said. “You know, they take 42 a game. They were second or third in both makes and attempts.

“The last game we played them, they hit nine in the first quarter. They can break a game open.”

And it’s not just the threes, of course.

“They have an elite offense -- number two in offensive efficiency. They don't turn the ball over and you have a guy in Damian Lillard who takes 10 and-a-half threes a game. Eight of those are pull-up threes and we know that his pull-up, three-point range is just over half court.

“So, your pick-up points, your bigs being at the level, he, understandably so, attracts so much attention."

But Malone knows, from personal experience in Game 7 of the second-round series two years ago, that Lillard isn’t the only backcourt problem.

“I think CJ McCollum is a terrific player,” Malone said. “All of us here in Denver still remember his performance in game seven a few years ago.


“So, they are one of the more talented and dangerous backcourts. And then you add a guy in Norman Powell, who also stretches the floor, he gets to the basket, he gets to the foul line.

“Those three guards put a tremendous amount of pressure on your defense, especially from the three-point line. So that would probably be the number one concern -- can we guard the three, somehow, some way?

“And then, to follow that up, I think the next concern is, can we keep Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter off the glass? Those guys are tremendous offensive rebounders. They are physical, they're strong, and they are, on the season, one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the league.

“So even when you play good defense. It's not over until you get that defensive rebound.”

Denver acquired Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline and he has provided the Nuggets with solid defense against bigger wings – a quality they needed against the likes of Paul George, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. But against the Blazers, who use a three-guard lineup, Gordon’s assignment will change.

“Now you're playing a team that doesn't have that elite wing -- you know that wing that you're so concerned about. Portland's got three elite guards that put up unbelievable numbers every single night.

“We've been using Aaron Gordon to guard those guards, whether it's Norman Powell, CJ McCollum or Damian Lillard. And you know that that's going to be a hell of a challenge -- not just for Aaron Gordon, but for all of our perimeter players.

"No one can guard Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum by themselves. It will truly require a team effort and all five guys on the floor are going to have to be locked in and be real disciplined within the game plan and the personnel."

Malone pointed out a lot of Portland positives – correctly. But his team, which won the only two games that meant something to his team against the Blazers this season, will be ready for the series.

The challenge will be for both teams.