Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers
When and Where: Sunday, April 7, Moda Center at the Rose Quarter, Portland, Ore., 9 p.m. EDT.
The Denver Nuggets continue their chase for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference on Sunday night when they attempt to complete a home-and-home sweep of the Trail Blazers in Portland.
Nugs wrap up Northwest title, trying to nail down No. 2 seed
The Nuggets (53-26), enjoying their best season since winning 57 games in 2012-13, clinched their first division title since 2010 with Friday night’s 119-110 victory over Portland. Nikola Jokic finished one assist shy of a triple-double with 22 points and 13 rebounds while Paul Millsap added 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting.
“Oh, I yelled at him, I said, ‘You gotta score 10 points,’” coach Mike Malone joked to the Denver Postabout Jokic taking over the game early in the fourth quarter. “You should’ve heard it. It was a really fiery approach. It’s on me calling plays to get him the ball, but it’s him understanding what time it is. It’s time for our best player to show up and carry us.”
Denver still has some work to do to clinch the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, though there is a very slim chance of catching Golden State for the top spot. For that to happen, the Nuggets would have to win out while the defending NBA champs lose their final three games. The No. 2 spot requires a magic number of two involving Nuggets wins and Rockets losses since Houston holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Jokic has been one assist shy of a triple-double in each of his last two games but has averaged 19.7 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists while recording double-doubles in seven of his last nine games. The point center has tormented Portland this season, averaging 25.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 8.0 assists in helping Denver go 3-0, and had a 40-10-8 effort in a 116-113 home win Jan. 13.
Millsap has also been a matchup problem for the Trail Blazers, averaging 19.8 points and 7.7 rebounds while shooting 62.9 percent.
The Nuggets have dropped three of their last four on the road — all against teams with above-.500 records — but are looking to clinch their first winning road record in a non-lockout season since going 21-20 in 2008-09.
Denver has won the last six games between the team and is seeking its first season sweep of Portland since 2005-06.
Blazers trying to fend off Jazz for No. 4 seed in West
Portland (50-29), which has gone 4-2 since losing starting center Jusuf Nurkic for the season with a broken leg, is trying to hold off surging Utah for the No. 4 spot in the West, which carries home-court advantage for the first round. The Trail Blazers lead the Jazz by one game with three to play but also can finish no worse than fifth.
Portland has also been without starting guard CJ McCollum, who has been sidelined the last 10 games with a knee injury. Despite making the trip to Denver, it is unlikely he will return for this contest. Enes Kanter continues to fill Nurkic’s void in the middle and had 24 points on 12-of-17 shooting.
Kanter, picked up on waivers in February after being cut by the New York Knicks, has averaged 18.7 points and 10.3 rebounds on 65.4 percent shooting in six games since taking over as starting center.
“The first three quarters, we played pretty good. The last quarter, they got it going a little bit,” he told The Associated Press. “We just need to learn to finish that fourth quarter.
“I believe in this team. I think this team is a championship team. … I think this team has enough talent to beat any team on any floor. We just need to stay together and go from here.”
Damian Lillard will try to bounce back from an off game in which he finished with 14 points on 3-of-14 shooting while missing all six of his 3-point attempts. It was just the second time all season Lillard — a 36.8 percent shooter from deep — failed to hit at least one trey. He has connected on just 33.3 percent of his shots in the three matchups with Denver this season, averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 assists.
Portland has won six straight and 16 of its last 18 at home, where it is 30-9 overall.
The Trail Blazers are:
- 1-3-1 ATS in their last five games vs. above-.500 teams.
- 1-4-1 ATS in their last six games vs. the Nuggets.
The Nuggets are:
- 4-0 ATS in their last four games as road underdogs between 0.5-4.5 points.
- 18-7-1 ATS in their last 26 games vs. Northwest Division opponents.
- 4-0 ATS in their last four games as underdogs between 0.5-4.5 points.