X

NBA Playoffs 2019: Wednesday TV Schedule and Semifinal Predictions

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 1, 2019

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, left, looks to pass the ball as Portland Trail Blazers center Enes Kanter defends 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)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

It wasn't until Game 5 of the opening round that the Denver Nuggets secured their first series lead of the 2019 NBA postseason.

The West's second seed displayed a better sense of urgency in the conference semis, opening with a 121-113 win over the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers.

While the Blazers had bright spots in Damian Lillard (39 points, six assists), Enes Kanter (26 points, seven rebounds) and Rodney Hood (17 points in 18 minutes), they didn't have Nikola Jokic, who carried the Nuggets with a statistical eruption of historic proportions:

NBA.com/Stats @nbastats

Nikola Jokic joins LeBron James (3x) and Julius Erving as the only players in #NBAPlayoffs history to record a stat line of 37 PTS, 9 REB, 6 AST, 3 STL, 2 BLK! #MileHighBasketball https://t.co/vN1v8a9sWR

Can the Joker help Denver hold its home-court advantage through the first two tilts? Or could Lillard and Co. orchestrate an upset before heading back to the Pacific Northwest?

After laying out Wednesday's broadcast information and our semifinal series predictions, we'll dive deeper into round two of Denver vs. Portland.

             

Wednesday NBA Playoff Schedule

Game 2—Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets, 9 p.m. ET on TNT

              

Semifinal Predictions

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks over No. 4 Boston Celtics, 4-2

No. 2 Toronto Raptors over No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers, 4-3

            

Western Conference

No. 1 Golden State Warriors over No. 4 Houston Rockets, 4-2

No. 2 Denver Nuggets over No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers, 4-3

                      

Blazers-Jazz: Game 2 Preview

DENVER, CO - APRIL 29: Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets and Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers look on during Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 29, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colora
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

As our seven-game prediction suggests, this series has "coin flip" written all over it.

The Nuggets had a one-win advantage in the regular season (54 to 53). The Blazers had a 0.1 advantage in net efficiency rating (plus-4.1 to plus-4.0). Each club fared better on offense than defense, and each side sent one representative to the All-Star Game (Lillard and Jokic).

Adding intrigue to this matchup, they also attack in opposite ways.

Portland's offense is intrinsically tied to the play of its backcourt. Lillard and CJ McCollum are lethal scoring threats, and while each can find shots for others, they're best when hunting for hoops.

Denver is different. Everything runs through the 7'0" Jokic, who might be most comfortable—and maybe most dangerous—as a distributor.

"He's going to make the right reads, he's like a quarterback out there," Jokic's frontcourt partner Paul Millsap said. "I consider him like a Tom Brady. He's always going to pick you apart and make the right reads."

The Jokic-Millsap tandem is as skilled as it is unassuming. Each is a three-level scorer, but each is also committed to making the right play, whether that's attacking their defender head-up or finding a free cutter or unattended shooter.

During the season series, which Denver won 3-1, the interior pair averaged 45 points and 17.4 rebounds. In Game 1, it was 56 points and 15 boards. The Nuggets outscored the Blazers by 14 points in the 22 minutes they played together.

As Yahoo Sports' Ben Rohrbach observed, Denver's frontcourt duo looked like it could be the deciding factor in this series:

Ben Rohrbach @brohrbach

I think DEN-POR G1 could be a harsh reality for the Blazers: The gap b/w Jokic/Millsap and Portland’s frontcout may be greater than the one b/w Lillard/McCollum and Denver’s backcourt.

So, how can the Blazers counter?

Changing defensive strategies might be a good place to start. Midway through the fourth quarter Monday, Portland put Maurice Harkless on Jamal Murray and Al-Farouq Aminu on Jokic, so the two long, athletic defenders could switch assignments on the 1-5 pick-and-roll.

"I think what we did there could be something we look at again," Aminu said, per The Athletic's Jason Quick. "It kind of takes the complication out of the pick-and-roll, which is nice."

Of course, it also potentially opens up other issues. Jokic is more powerful than these two defenders. Millsap gains a quickness advantage on Kanter. And this forces either Lillard or McCollum to guard a bigger assignment, like 6'7" Torrey Craig, who keeps active on the offensive glass.

But maybe this chess move works and forces Denver to make the next. When two clubs are as close on paper as this, pulling the right strategic lever can have a major impact.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.