Blazers aren't worried; Nuggets aren't satisfied

NBA.com Global on May 01, 2019 07:22 PM
Blazers aren't worried; Nuggets aren't satisfied
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, third from left, pursues a loose ball with, from left, Denver Nuggets guard Malik Beasley, center Nikola Jokic and forward Mason Plumlee in the second half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Monday, April 29, 2019, in Denver. The Nuggets won 121-113. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

DENVER -- Terry Stotts has his schedule locked in through Mother’s Day.

Same goes for Damian Lillard.

That would take the Portland Trail Blazers’ coach and star point guard through Game 7 of their Western Conference semifinal against the Denver Nuggets, themselves hunkered down and prepared to go the distance in this series, if need be.

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They’ve only played one game; Game 2 is Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) at Pepsi Center. But both sides seem resigned to the fact that the victor won’t get out of this series anytime soon.

The Blazers are undaunted after coming up short in Monday’s (Tuesday, PHL time) Game 1, when the Nuggets capitalized on 18 Portland turnovers and turned them into 23 points in a 121-113 win.

“It’s a seven-game series,” Stotts said Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time). “I think both teams feel like they can play better. I read where coach [Michael] Malone and their players seem to think they can play better. We think we can play better. That’s part of a NBA series."

“There’s certainly a lot we could have done better,” Stotts continued. “And when you have a chance to go back and watch it on video, you need that confidence going into the next game. A lot of it was at the defensive end. Offensively, the turnovers were a big concern. Hopefully, we’ll take care of that. But defensively there were a lot of areas we could clean up.”

The Blazers had no answer for Nikola Jokic, who played a fantastic all-around game and took advantage of every defender Stotts tried on him.

But the Nuggets didn’t fare much better against Lillard, who had his way with them to the tune of a game-high 39 points.

“He still had 39 points, so we still have to do a better job and I think we will,” Nuggets guard Gary Harris said. “We just have to continue to stay locked in, continue to come back and get ready and just look at the film and look at the areas we can get better.”

So for all the data you want to utilize from their respective first-round series, most simply do not apply this time around. Not only is the style completely different, but also the sense of urgency shifts into high gear, given what’s at stake for the winner.

The adjustments, both schematically and emotionally, require work from both sides.

“It’s a completely different game and opponent,” Malone said. “From Derrick White and DeMar DeRozan, who are not known as three-point shooters, to guarding CJ [McCollum] and Damian Lillard, who are very efficient three-point shooters. So your mindset has to change there on that alone, the personnel.

“But now, I think going into this series, Damian Lillard in the first round, he was averaging 33 pick-and-rollls per game. That’s a crazy number. Your bigs are under constant duress, constant pressure to guard and contain, as are your smalls.”

Lillard and McCollum promise to keep the pressure on, like always. Now they have to wipe their own history clean of what worked and didn’t work against the Thunder and focus squarely on the Nuggets.

Attacking the perimeter defenders the Nuggets can throw at them might not produce the same results they did against the Thunder. The Nuggets have an assortment of longer and more active defenders they can throw at the guys who power the Blazers’ attack.

With only a day between games to make adjustments, mistakes must be kept to a minimum.

“Every series is going to be different,” Lillard said, clearly ready to move on from the Blazers’ recent playoff past. “Teams are different. The first round is not the second round. The Thunder are not the Nuggets. So I think your approach … obviously, that’s why you prepare so completely different. But the mentality has to stay the same as far as what we’re trying to get done. Being aggressive, being connected, doing everything together. I think in that way it’s the same. They’re a completely different team. And all that said, we had a chance to win the game … so in the end it’s just one game.”

There’s a chance for six more in this series.

And both sides seem prepared for as much.

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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