Tuesday night, the Moda Center is going to be rocking. For much of the year, the playoffs seemed to be out of reach for the Blazers, a team that shocked the world by exceeding expectations and making it to the second round of the playoff last season. Now, with only two weeks left in the season, the Blazers control their own destiny when it comes to securing the 8th, and final, playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Sunday night, the Denver Nuggets lost at home to the New Orleans Pelicans. That opened the door for the Blazers, with a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, to move into a tie with the Nuggets for the 8th seed. That brings us to the first point of why Tuesday’s matchup is crucial.
Something that could be extremely confusing towards the end of the season are all of the tiebreaker situations when it comes to playoff seeding. To simplify it somewhat here I will act as though the Blazers and Nuggets are the only two teams with a shot at the 8th seed.
Tiebreaker #1 – “Better winning percentage in games against each other”
As we sit right now, the Blazers have a 2-1 advantage in this category against the Nuggets. If the Blazers were to win on Tuesday night, they would clinch the ultimate tiebreaker in this matchup.
Tiebreaker #2 – “Better winning percentage against teams in own division (only if tied teams are in same division).”
Before the Tuesday game, the Blazers have a record of 8-3 against the Northwest Division and the Nuggets have a record of 5-8 against Northwest Division rivals.
Again, advantage Blazers.
The Nuggets have 3 games remaining against the Northwest division and the Blazers have 5 games remaining against the Northwest Division.
If the Blazers win only one more game in the division (obviously including Tuesday’s matchup with the Nuggets) they would clinch this tiebreaker.
Tiebreaker #3 – “Better winning percentage against teams in own conference.”
The Blazers are 22-21 against the West, while the Nuggets are 20-25. Each team plays 52 games against the Western Conference.
All 9 of the Blazers’ remaining games are against the Western Conference, 5 of which are against teams that are currently out of the Playoffs. If the Blazers were to beat all of those teams that aren’t in the Playoffs and finish the season 5-4, they would clinch this tiebreaker against the Nuggets as well.
There are a few other tiebreakers but it seems as though they won’t matter. If the Blazers win the home matchup against the Nuggets, the other tiebreaker situations are null and void. That is why this game is so important for both teams.
Now let’s break down the matchup between the Blazers and Nuggets, March 28th at the Moda Center:
Projected Starting Lineups:
|Damian Lillard||Point Guard||Jameer Nelson|
|C.J. McCollum||Shooting Guard||Gary Harris|
|Maurice Harkless||Small Forward||Danilo Gallinari|
|Noah Vonleh||Power Forward||Wilson Chandler|
|Jusuf Nurkic||Center||Nikola Jokic|
Three Storylines to Follow:
1 – Jusuf Nurkic vs. Nikola Jokic
Nurkic was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers in large part because Nikola Jokic developed to the point that the Nuggets couldn’t afford to keep him off of the court. The former second-round draft pick is averaging 16.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game in only his second season in the league. Jokic has developed into what looks like a franchise center for the Nuggets.
On the other hand, Nurkic had fallen out of favor with the Nuggets in his third season in the league. In Portland, however, he has become an instant fan favorite. In 22 games with the Blazers, Nurkic is averaging 14 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game. The chemistry between Lillard and Nurkic in the pick-and-roll was instant.
The matchup between Nurkic and Jokic could go a long ways in determining who wins the game, and moves one step closer to the Western Conference Playoffs. Look for a motivated Nurkic to take it to the weaker defensive player in Jokic.
2 – Mason Plumlee’s Return to Portland
As much as Nurkic has become a fan favorite in Portland, Plumlee became almost a legend in the year and a half that he was here. His passing ability, high motor, and the way he helped the team beat the Clippers in the Playoffs last year really endeared him to the fans.
I expect an incredible standing ovation for the newest Denver big man when he makes his return to Rip City. Plumlee loved the city of Portland, and the fans sure loved him back. It will be a great moment when he first enters the game on Tuesday.
3 – How Will Denver Contain the Portland Backcourt?
The starting guard combination of Lillard and McCollum averages 49.9 points per game. They can take a game over at any time.
Across from them are a couple guards that aren’t known for their defense.
Jameer Nelson, the starting point guard for the Nuggets, is currently ranked 39th out of 90 point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus.
Gary Harris, the starting shooting guard for the Nuggets, is currently ranked 90th out 99 shooting guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus.
Luckily for the Nuggets, they have some guards that come off the bench that are better known for defense, but no real defensive stopper on the roster.
Lillard and McCollum have to be licking their chops looking forward to this huge matchup against the Nuggets.
We have covered what is at stake in when the Nuggets visit the Blazers on Tuesday March 28th, and which players will most likely make key contributions.
Now, who wins?
Nate Silver’s analytic based system and website FiveThirtyEight.com predicts each game using a complex set of algorithms and statistics.
Looking at the matchup between the Blazers and Nuggets, the FiveThirtyEight computers predict that the Blazers have a 70% chance to win the game, and that the Nuggets have a 30% chance.
The betting lines in Las Vegas agree with Silver’s system and say that the Blazers are a 2-point favorite over the Nuggets. They have also set the over/under at 226.5 points. Vegas expects a high scoring, close game between these two teams battling for their playoff lives. If the Vegas line were to hold true, the Blazers would win by a score of 114-112.
Going back to FiveThirtyEight and their NBA Projections, they project each team’s current percent chance of making the playoffs. Before the game FiveThirtyEight has each team’s chances at:
Blazers – 84% chance of making the Playoffs.
Nuggets – 15% chance of making the Playoffs.
With all of that said, the old adage is true, there is a reason why they play the games. As many projections and predictions as can be made, nothing can 100% accurately predict what happens during the 48-minute battle between two motivated teams. That is why we love basketball so much. Any team can win, any night.
I will be in attendance on Tuesday and look forward to being a part of the Playoff atmosphere that Portland is known for. The crowd will be loud, the teams will be locked in, and there could be a classic on our hands!