Portland Trail Blazers: Carmelo Anthony can swing the series against the Denver Nuggets

Carmelo Anthony, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)
Carmelo Anthony, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images) /

The Portland Trail Blazers tip-off their opening round at 10:30PM ET, Saturday, May 22 against the Denver Nuggets. This will be the first playoff series between the two squads since their seven-game showdown in 2019 that ended in the Blazers favor.

The two teams have sort of mirrored each other, starting as young, underrated, offensively exciting teams that always seem to be a year or two away from being serious contenders. The Nuggets will have to act quickly before they start to hear word of how they continually fail to get over the hump, sentiments that are all too familiar for the Blazers faithful.

Denver is younger than the Blazers and knows that however the series plays out, it probably would have been a little different with Jamal Murray running the point. The Blazers don’t have the luxury of excuses this year. With their healthiest roster entering a post-season in a long time, if they don’t make a deep competitive run this playoffs, it could mean drastic changes headed into next season.

Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic will get their numbers

Damian Lillard and Nikola Jokic are two of the most feared offensive players in the league, and their talents have made their respective teams equally elite on that end of the floor. The two bonified superstars have put together incredible seasons and both are likely to show up on MVP ballots, the latter the favorite to win it.

There’s no reason to expect the pair not to continue to put up numbers in the first-round. Portland and Denver are pretty evenly matched in terms of talent following Murray’s injury. The Blazers are a little more top-heavy; their big three consisting of Dame, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic can stack up against nearly any other teams’, aside from the Brooklyn Nets. Even with Murray shelved, the Nuggets are probably the more well-rounded team, with meaningful contributors up and down the roster.

Match-ups dictate victories in the NBA more than X’s and O’s ever have. Since Jokic entered the league, the Blazers and Nuggets have faced off a total of 23 times, with Portland winning 12 of the battles. In a series this evenly matched, it may come down to surprise performances from the role players to swing the outcome. These are the non-stars most likely to impact the series from either team:

Portland Trail Blazers: Carmelo Anthony

There’s no one on the Blazers roster, aside from their big three, that can impact this series more than their future hall-of-famer. In the first-round, Carmelo Anthony will set foot in the Ball Arena, formerly known as the Pepsi Center, for the first time during the postseason since 2010. If Melo can put up some vintage performances in his old stomping ground, the Blazers will have a huge edge against the Nuggets.

After a season and a half of controversy, Anthony found a role, and a home, with the Portland Trail Blazers. Melo has successfully made the transition, from superstar to pure bucket-getter off the bench, that teams and analysts were waiting on following his exit from New York. Coming off the pine, Anthony has the greenlight as the primary option. That freedom to gun has resulted in his best season since leading the league in scoring for the Knicks in 2014.

This year, he’s averaging the most points per 36 minutes since his last season with the Knicks. He’s also putting up the third highest effective field goal percentage of his career.

Anthony has already greatly impacted Portland’s win column. On the year, he’s averaging a little over 13 points. When he’s scored more than that this season, the Blazers have a scorching 20-11 record, according to statmuse. On the other hand, Portland looks more like a lottery team at 15-17 when Melo pours in less than 13 points.

The former Nugget is sure to get a boost in playing time entering the postseason. Let’s see if he can use those extra opportunities to get the ultimate revenge on his old team.

Denver Nuggets: Facundo Campazzo

There’s few players in the league that can provide what Jamal Murray did for the Nuggets, yet Austin Rivers and Facundo Campazzo are being asked to anyway. Rivers provides the perimeter shot creation that Murray brought, but the playmaking load can’t rest solely on Jokic’s wide shoulders.

That’s where Facu comes in. The 29 year old rookie was brought in from Real Madrid for his wizardry with the ball. The Nuggets are going to need every bit of that passing magic if they are going to mitigate the loss of Murray and get past the Blazers.

To his credit, Facu has raised his game admirably since Murray went down. Before the star point guard’s ACL tear, the Argentinian averaged 5 points and 2.8 assists playing 18.7 minutes per night. Since then, he is playing 31.1 minutes per game, pouring in 9.1 points to go along with 5.7 dimes. His willingness to step up is a big reason for Denver’s 13-6 record since the night of Murray’s injury.

To be frank, the Nuggets are probably going to need a lot more from Facu if they are to get past the Blazers.

Sometimes, it’s the simplest looking plays that are the most important. The Argentinian’s vision and accuracy are what make this play possible. After a fumbled pass makes it way to Facu, Jokic knows that the guard will find him if he’s open. The Joker makes a line-drive towards the basket and Facu threads the ball between two defenders which Jokic catches in stride for the easy two.

Few players in the league could replicate that play and Jokic is the only one on the Denver roster. The Nuggets are going to need a lot of plays like that from their 29 year old rookie if they want to get past the Blazers.