Photo: David Zalubowski – The Associated Press
With just two games remaining in the regular season, the recipe is simple for the Denver Nuggets, win and you’re in.
The Nuggets have gotten hot at the right time and they’ll look to continue their strong stretch as they welcome their newest rival to town in the final regular season game at the Pepsi Center. Monday night will mark the two teams final matchup of 2018, with the Nuggets coming in winners of two of the last three matchups. In the two teams last meeting in late January, the Nuggets were able to squeak past the Blazers 104-101 in a game that Jamal Murray scored a career high 38 points. Since that loss against the Nuggets, the Blazers have gone 23-10 and seem primed to secure the third seed heading into the Western Conference playoffs.
Even as high as the Trail Blazers are in the standings, they’ve hit a rough patch losing each of their last three games. Portland still has something to play for through as they haven’t completely locked up that three seed with the Utah Jazz sitting just a game behind them. Of the current field of playoff teams in the West, the Blazers have the fourth best road record of 21-19 and have done a good job staying afloat away from their home court. In comparison, the Nuggets road record is 15-25 and is one of the main reasons as to why they are fighting for their playoff lives in the final week of the season.
The player the Nuggets are really going to have to try and slow down on Monday night is Damian Lillard. Dame comes into Monday’s contest averaging 26.8 points per game and is averaging 20 points per game in his two meetings against the Nuggets this season. Lillard is a threat to score anywhere on the floor as he’s shooting over 43 percent from the field and over 36 percent from behind the arc. He’s also not shy about putting up shots as he averages just under 20 shots per game and shoots by far the most shots out of anyone on the Blazers roster.
Monday will also mark Jusuf Nurkic’s second game back in the Mile High City. Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic was better against Nurkic in the two teams last matchup, but Nurkic has still owned the Joker ever since his trade to Portland last season. In three games against the Nuggets this season, Nurkic is averaging 15.3 points and six rebounds per game. The biggest advantage that Nurkic has over Jokic is his frame and just his overall ability to be a major presence down in the post. Jokic showed some heightened aggressiveness in the two teams last meeting, so let’s hope he brings the same aggressiveness on Monday night in one of the biggest games of the season.
Speaking of Jokic, no body has been better then the Serbian big man throughout the Nuggets five game winning streak. Jokic is coming off a game in which he recorded his ninth triple-double of the season in a huge Nuggets victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. That triple-double followed games in which Jokic scored 23, 35, 30, and 16 all in Nuggets victory. The most exciting part of Jokic’s game lately has been his aggressiveness on the offensive end of the floor. Jokic has played like the Nuggets best player in the last couple of weeks, and that’s a huge step for him as he’s had tendencies of being passive in the past. If Jokic is able to continue his strong play in the Nuggets final two games, then the Nuggets should have a pretty good shot of snapping their four year postseason drought.
Taking a look at the standings as we head into Monday night, the Nuggets basically control their own destiny as long as they can win their final two games.
As long as the Nuggets can take of business Monday night against the Blazers, it allows Wednesday nights game to be a win and you’re in scenario in Minnesota. It’s still important to take it one game at a time though and that all starts Monday night when one of the Nuggets biggest rivals invades the Pepsi Center.