Home teams were just so-so in their playoff openers around the NBA over the weekend, and one of the home losers was the short-handed Denver Nuggets as they fell 123-109 in the Mile High City on Saturday to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Nuggets are short favorites at William Hill Sportsbook for Monday's Game 2 even though they remain without backcourt players Jamal Murray, Will Barton and PJ Dozier. The book gives Blazers star Damian Lillard an Over/Under of 29.5 points.
Murray was lost for the season on April 12 at Golden State. Barton (12.7 ppg) hasn't played since April 23 due to a hamstring injury and Dozier (7.7 ppg) hasn't since May 3 due to a groin injury. While Barton might get back at some point this series, Dozier is not expected to.
Without those three guys, the Nuggets were forced to start late-season signee Austin Rivers and rookie Facundo Campazzo in Game 1. Those guys should not be starting for a playoff team. They finished a combined minus-25 with 14 points and five fouls in 55 minutes.
To no surprise, the Portland backcourt of Lillard and CJ McCollum dominated as Lillard had 34 points and 13 assists with a plus-25 rating, and McCollum had 21 points and six rebounds. The Blazers essentially tried for force anyone but Nikola Jokic to beat them.
Denver did lead by nine in the third quarter Saturday but Lillard sparked a 12-2 run that tied the game at 73-73 and drained 28-foot three-pointer to close out the quarter on an 8-0 run and take a 96-86 lead into the fourth. The game was essentially over then. In three regular-season games against the Nuggets this year, Lillard averaged 23.0 points. Lillard has logged a double-double in four of his last six games against Denver. That he gets another one Monday is +290 with no at -380.
On the updated series line, the Blazers are now -330 favorites after stealing away home-court advantage with the Nuggets at +260. Portland has twice defeated Denver a seven-game series that started with the Nugs holding home-court advantage. It last happened in seven games in the 2019 West semifinals.
Portland also thumped the visiting Nuggets in the regular-season finale.
Free NBA pick: Lillard Under 29.5 points (-120); I generally lean Under on these types of props because an injury means you win it
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