Key battlegrounds in postseason matchup


Denver Nuggets

Denver Nuggets Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images Denver Nuggets

After an exciting final stretch in which multiple squads tried to…lose, the Denver Nuggets will face the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, a tight matchup that could break in either team’s favor.

Many believe the Dallas Mavericks were Denver’s best target opponent, however, a certain West Coast team tanked multiple games to cellar dwellers to secure this matchup, a move that is discouraged by the league…but still happens *cough* by accident sometimes.

After an exciting final stretch in which multiple squads tried to… well, lose, the Denver Nuggets will face the Portland Trail Blazers in the postseason.

Nonetheless, the Nuggets avoided the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, leaving a reasonable chance for success during a year in which they’re limping along without anything resembling their starting backcourt.

As the Nuggets and Trail Blazers prepare to clash antlers in what’s sure to be a series full of highlight-reel deep shots, slick post play, and gritty defense, let’s examine key battlegrounds in this matchup.

Battleground #1: Nikola Jokic vs. Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter

Just how great is MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic? The boundaries may be stretched yet again, as the Nuggets will require a heroic effort (perhaps another career-leading stretch) from their superstar in order to advance to the semifinals.

Jokic is the best player in the series, fresh off a strong regular season in which he averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per contest, while shooting 56.6 percent from the field, 38.8 percent from deep, and 86.8 percent from the charity stripe.

He’s among the league’s best at punishing double-teams and controls the offense in remarkable fashion. And Portland is a favorable matchup for him.

Jusuf Nurkic, who will be his primary defender, is a bully of a big man who plays with power and physicality. He’s best known for rebounding, strength and strutting around the court whenever he does anything of significance. Nonetheless, Nurkic lacks the height, quickness and defensive intelligence to shut down Jokic, as Nurkic’s best chance is frustrating Jokic with physical play. If Jokic can consistently get to his spots and shoot his right-handed jump hook, thus setting the table for counter-moves, he’ll be a nightmare to contain.

Meanwhile, Enes Kanter is another physical post who’s notorious for his offensive boards and underwhelming defense. Jokic should be able to capitalize on minutes with Kanter guarding him, although he’ll have to fight through some physical play.

If Denver orchestrates their offense downhill through Jokic, riding his dominant scoring and hitting shots off his passes, they’ll be well-primed to make Portland sweat. However, if Jokic is bumped, banged and frustrated into anything other than excellence, the Trail Blazers will consider this a success.

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