Denver vs Portland: Round 1, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Denver Nuggets vs Portland Trail Blazers - 2021 NBA Playoffs Round 1
Denver vs. Portland, Western Conference Quarterfinals, May 22, Ball Arena

The Portland Trail Blazers felt at home with the rims in Denver, outshooting the Denver Nuggets to earn a victory in Game 1. The Nuggets technically shot better from the floor, but it was the Trail Blazers who lit up the arena from behind the arc, led as always by Damian Lillard. But it was the bench players who made the biggest impact from long range for Portland, adding vital secondary scoring that Denver seemed to lack, especially in the fourth quarter. Denver needs to quickly find some answers defensively to slow down the Trail Blazers and even the series Monday in Game 2.

Game 2 (Portland Trailblazers lead 1-0)

May 24, 10 p.m., Ball Arena

Damian Lillard scored 34 points and the Portland Trail Blazers shot 47.5 percent from behind the arc to outgun the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 on Saturday. Lillard made five of those 3-pointers while substitutes Carmelo Anthony and Anfernee Simons added four each to overcome the Nuggets’ 50-percent shooting on the night. The issue is Denver was making two-point shots while Portland was making 3s, and the Nuggets seemed to have no answer for the Trail Blazers’ guards, especially in the fourth quarter when Portland pulled away for good. Nikola Jokic scored 34 points to led the way for the Nuggets, but he had a season-low one assist in the game.

Jokic was certainly doing his part to score while making more than half his shots and sinking 3-of-7 3-point attempts, but Portland made sure to prevent him from being a distributor. He averaged a career-best 8.3 assists per game, and it was clear that Denver’s offense struggled when the big man wasn’t able to get his teammates involved. It also didn’t help that Michael Porter Jr. made just one of his 10 3-pointers despite finishing with 25 points and that as a team Denver made just 30.6 percent of its shots from behind the arc. Most troubling, though, for the Nuggets was their sloppy defense, which was an issue for them in the NBA playoffs last year in the first round. Denver did a poor job guarding Anthony and Simons on the perimeter and let the Trail Blazers get into a rhythm from behind the arc.

Portland clearly did an excellent job on Jokic in terms of keeping him one-dimensional, but the Trail Blazers also showed great fortitude to dominate the fourth quarter on the road. That mental edge was clearly lacking from this team last season and its presence is a welcome sign for Portland fans that this year’s squad more resembles the team that went to the conference finals two years ago. What stood out about that mindset was how well Portland adapted to the situation at hand. In the first quarter, it recognized that Anthony was feeling confident and fed the ball to the veteran, who scored 12 of his 18 points in that first quarter. The Trail Blazers also saw how well Simons was shooting and found ways to get him open in good shooting spaces. Those are the little things that make a big difference in such a tight series.

I think Game 1 taught us that perhaps the injuries are starting to catch up to the Nuggets. Denver might have the NBA MVP in Jokic, but unless the supporting cast around him steps up, it will be a quick exit from the postseason. The top sports betting sites in New Jersey are still making the Nuggets slight favorites in this game, but I think all of the momentum and confidence is in the other locker room. When Jokic scores 34 points and grabs 16 rebounds in 14-point loss, the other team must be doing really right on the other players. Porter seems to be adjusting to his new role on a larger stage and I question who that third scorer will be for the Nuggets. The fact the Trail Blazers can bring a player of Anthony’s caliber off the bench should not be undervalued when betting on New Jersey’s basketball betting sites. I certainly think it’s a big advantage, which is why I’m betting on Portland laying 5.5 points for +200 odds from the top NBA betting sites in New Jersey.

BET ON PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS TO WIN

Game 3

May 27, 10:30 p.m., Moda Center

 

 

Game 4

May 29, 4 p.m., Moda Center

 

 

Game 5

June 1, TBD, Ball Arena

 

Game 6

June 3, TBD, Moda Center

 

 

Game 7

June 5, TBD, Ball Arena

 

 

Game 1

May 22, 10:30 p.m., Ball Arena

If there is one series in the first round of the NBA playoffs that goes the full seven games, it’s going to be this one between the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers. These two teams went the distance in the 2019 second round, and both teams are largely the same as they meet in the 2021 postseason. Denver responded to Jamal Murray’s season-ending torn ACL by winning 13 of its last 18 games of the season to secure the third seed. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers a 3-10 start to April by winning 10 of their final 12 games in the regular season. These two teams are playing with a lot of confidence right now, which should make this matchup enjoyable and exciting to watch for NBA fans.

It’s remarkable how much difference a month can make for a team. Portland was quickly falling down the standings in April when it won just three times in the first 13 games of the month despite being outscored by just a point per game. But during the final 12 games of the regular season – when the Trail Blazers won 10 times – Portland averaged 124.9 points per game on 49.3 percent shooting, including 43.2 percent from behind the arc, while allowing just 111.8 points per game over that same stretch. Statistically, the Trail Blazers were slightly better over those final 12 games, but offensively, Portland scored 12 more points per game while shooting six percentage points better from the field and eight points better from 3-point range. Damian Lillard, the team’s leading scorer, averaged 30.3 points per game over the final 12 contests to bump his season average to nearly 29 points per game, while C.J. McCollum didn’t stray from his season average of 23.1 points per game. The duo combined to make 47.2 percent of their 3-pointers, forcing teams to the perimeter defensively and opening scoring chances for Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter near the rim.

Although the Trail Blazers will test Denver’s perimeter defense, the Nuggets will test Portland’s ability to defend the post with Nikola Jokic. The Serbian center is one of three finalists for the NBA MVP and with good reason. He averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game this season, helping keep the Nuggets afloat in the immediate aftermath of Murray’s injury. He’s a matchup problem for the Trail Blazers in general, as he averaged 29 points per game against Portland this year and 27 points, 14 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game in the 2019 conference semifinals. Though Jokic deserves the MVP consideration, the reason Denver is where it is right now is Michael Porter Jr. The second-year guard really elevated his game in Murray’s absence, averaging 23.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in the 17 contests since the injury. It’s actually a slight decrease in his rebounding, but he makes up for it with his scoring by scoring six points more per game since the injury then before it, and those six points are far more important for Denver than the one fewer rebound Porter is hauling in.

As I said in the opening to this preview, this series is destined to go seven games, and why should we fight destiny at the top sports betting sites in New Jersey? The odds on this series going seven games are +200, so I’m hopping on that before I even reveal who I think is going to win the series. The top NBA betting sites in New Jersey are splitting hairs when it comes to the favorite in this series with Denver inching ahead, presumably as the higher seed with homecourt advantage. The Nuggets have certainly been playing some excellent basketball lately and they have experience in this playoffs after advancing to the conference finals last season. But it was just two years ago that Portland made it all the way to the conference finals, so it isn’t like the Trail Blazers lack experience in the postseason. Ultimately, I side with the sportsbook in believing in the advantage of playing at home, so I’ll bet Denver in seven games for +450 odds.

As for Game 1, I’m riding hard with the Nuggets behind a strong game from Jokic. Portland might have won the regular-season finale between these teams, but the Trail Blazers played their stars nearly twice as long as Denver. Jokic in particular was dominant in his short stint in the game, scoring 21 points in just 16 minutes of action against the Trail Blazers. The game itself is basically a pick’em at the basketball betting sites in New Jersey, so finding a reasonable spread is excellent value. I’ll settle at the Nuggets laying 4.5 points for +145 odds then throw in a pair of bets on their two stars for some added value. I’m betting on Porter to score at least 25 points in the victory for +300 odds and adding on a triple-double from Jokic for +520 odds.

BET ON DENVER NUGGETS TO WIN

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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