The 2021 NBA Playoffs are finally here, and the Portland Trail Blazers are ready to kick off their eighth straight playoff appearance.
As the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, Portland is one of the lucky teams that both avoided the NBA Play-In Tournament and knows who their first-round opponent will be before the play-in games end.
The Blazers will take on the No. 3 seed, Denver Nuggets, and likely NBA MVP, Nikola Jokic. The series should be a great one. Here is a look at what the Blazers have going for them, what they need to worry about, and our prediction for the outcome.
The good news for the Blazers
The Nuggets might have the MVP, but the Blazers have a star that equals The Joker. Damian Lillard is coming off a fantastic season, averaging 28.8 points, 7.5 assists, and shooting 39% from deep. The NBA is a game of stars, and the Blazers have one as good as anyone.
The supporting cast isn’t too shabby either. CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony, and trade deadline acquisition Norman Powell can all score in bunches if Denver can slow Lillard down. Defensively, Portland is an entirely different team with Jusef Nurkic in the lineup.
If Nurkic can stay healthy, the Blazers D should hold up against the Nuggets. The late-season loss of 20-points-a-game scorer Jamal Murray has limited Denver’s offensive ceiling, which will hurt if Portland can turn games into shootouts.
The bad news for the Blazers
Jokic is for real. The presumptive MVP is having a season unlike one we have ever seen in the NBA. The 6’11” center is averaging 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists. The entire offense runs through him, and he conducts it like an orchestra.
In Murray’s absence, Denver’s own trade deadline pick up, Aaron Gordon has stepped up, and Michael Porter Jr. has developed into a true superstar. Murray’s direct replacement, Facundo Campazzo, can’t score like Murray but adds energy and defensive ability that Murray never could.
Finally, injuries play a role in the good news for Portland; they could play a role in the bad news. Right now, the Blazers look as healthy as they have been in a long time; fans know that may not stay the same. McCollum and Nurkic are always injury concerns and have already missed 25 and 35 games this season, respectively.
This should be a fantastic first-round series. Both teams are talented, battle-tested, and fun to watch, and it includes two of the biggest superstars in the entire NBA. The games should have a lot of scoring, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if most, if not all, of the games, came down to the final buzzer.
The series itself should be back and forth the whole way as well, and the prediction here is that it goes the full seven games. Game 7 will come down to the superstars on either team, and, in a clutch situation, Lillard has the edge.
Whether he rises to the moment himself or it comes down to one of the NBA-hardened vets like Anthony or McCollum, the Blazers will pull it out and move on to the next round.
Prediction: PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS IN 7