The Denver Nuggets will travel to the Moda Center on Wednesday night as they prepare to open the regular season with a Western Conference showdown against the Portland Trailblazers in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Semifinals.
Both of these teams have their eyes on another deep playoff run in 2019-20. Portland stunned Denver in seven games, coming back from a 3-1 deficit against an inexperienced Nuggets’ roster. Denver finished second in the Western Conference standings last year and they will be one of the favorites to run away with the No. 1-seed in a wide-open West this year.
Porter Jr. must earn minutes for Malone, NuggetsDenver brought back an NBA-high 12 players from last season’s roster, as Jamal Murray and MVP candidate Nikola Jokic try to lead the Nuggets back to the playoffs for the second consecutive season. In a lot of ways, Murray has become the perfect sidekick to Jokic, who runs the offense and finds passing lanes unlike any other center in NBA history. Together, they form one of the best pick-and-roll combinations in the NBA, but it’s often Murray that is setting the screen and popping out for a three-point shot. Jokic averaged 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game last season, but he shot a career-low 30.7 percent from three-point range. A sharpshooter from deep, Murray is coming off a season in which he scored a career-best 18.2 points per game on 36.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Gary Harris, Will Barton, and Paul Milsap are expected to round out the starting lineup for the Nuggets on opening night.
This game will also feature the long-awaited debut of the first-round pick Michael Porter Jr. or will it? The former No.1 player in his high school class, Porter has been dealing with injuries for the past two seasons and is ready to prove that he’s healthy. However, head coach Mike Malone was non-committal about Porter Jr.’s spot in the rotation to start the season, saying that the rookie “isn’t guaranteed to play” against the Trail Blazers. The high-profile prospect reportedly sought a conversation with Malone about his role and is accepting the challenge of earning his minutes. He already flashed his potential as a scorer during the preseason. Porter Jr. scored nine points in his debut against Portland, before finishing with 12 points in 12 minutes versus the L.A. Clippers and 11 points in 21 minutes against the Phoenix Suns.
The second unit is expected to be a strong point for Denver once again this season, thanks to the presence of Monte Morris and Malik Beasley. Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant will also earn minutes in the frontcourt, giving the Nuggets once of the deepest rosters in the NBA.
Blazers hoping for improvement from Collins, SimonsPortland reshaped its roster after suffering a four-game sweep against the Golden State Warriors in last year’s playoffs. The team opted to get rid of Seth Curry, Mo Harkless, and Al-Farouq Aminu, who all played major roles in last year’s playoff run. Instead, they brought in proven role players in Kent Bazemore, Hassan Whiteside, and veteran Pau Gasol, while former first-round picks Anfernee Simons and Zach Collins are expected to take on bigger roles. The team has also gotten some early returns on Mario Hezonja, who flashed ability as a primary ballhandler and led the Blazers in assists during the preseason. All in all, Portland will trot out six new players and three new starters (Whiteside, Collins and Rodney Hood).
If the Blazers are going to compete in the West, they will likely need breakout seasons from Collins and/or Simons. Collins looked like a budding star in Game 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals and Simons flashed his potential on the final day of the regular season, posting 37 points, nine assists and six rebounds in his debut start.
Anfernee Simons is a BUCKET— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 10, 2019
35 PTS | 13/18 FG | 6/7 3PT pic.twitter.com/H2EmZA1Fdx
Portland will also need to improve on the defensive end. Head coach Terry Stotts wants the Blazers to become a top-10 defensive team, but that could be a lot to ask without Harkless and Aminu -- two of the team’s most versatile defenders from last season. They ranked 16th in defensive rating last season.
- Nuggets are 22-10-1 ATS in their last 33 vs. NBA Northwest.
- Trail Blazers are 1-4-1 ATS in their last 6 home games.
- Trail Blazers are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 when their opponent allows 100 points or more in their previous game.
- Trail Blazers are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games following an ATS win.