Portland Trail Blazers (17-15) at Denver Nuggets (19-11)
Game Info: Friday, December 23, 2022 at 9:10 p.m. EST (Ball Arena, Denver, CO)
Betting Odds: Nuggets (-4.5) / Over/Under (232.5)
Pick: Trail Blazers (+4.5)
The NBA's Western Conference has been highly competitive, with the team's top 10 teams separated by just four games. Tonight, another set of solid Western Conference opponents meet in the Mile High City, with the West's best Denver Nuggets hosting the Portland Trail Blazers. Tonight's matchup also features the two best three-point shooting teams in the NBA.
To nobody's surprise, defending back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic has been playing incredible basketball, and unexplainably may be getting even better. The Nuggets big man has put up two straight triple-doubles and is less than an assist shy of averaging a triple-double for the season, an unprecedented feat for a big man in today's NBA.
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The Blazers, meanwhile, also boast a talented roster, with Damian Lillard looking like his old self now that he is fully healthy. At 32 years old, Lillard is in the midst of one of his best seasons, shooting nearly 40% from three and averaging just under 28 points per game. The Blazers are also the second-best team in the NBA against the spread, with a 20-12 mark in that department.
While earning an impressive overall record, Denver is just 7-6 against the spread at home. Their defense has left something to be desired, as the Nuggets have been involved in a lot of high scoring games, which has made it difficult for them to effectively separate from their opponents. They're winning most of their games, but their lack of defense, especially their interior depth, as allowed a lot of teams to keep games close.
The Nuggets have also been looking for a reliable second scoring option behind Jokic. Jamal Murray has been trending in the right direction recently, but he still is trying to find a more consistent shooting stroke as he works his way back from injury. In a crucial development for the Nuggets, sharpshooter Michael Porter, Jr. may be back tonight after missing nearly a month with an injured heel. How many minutes he will actually play, though, remains to be seen.
In addition to Lillard, the Blazers have been getting key contributions from newcomer Jerami Grant, who's having the best year of his career as he finally gets to play with a talented roster. Anfernee Simons is also having an outstanding year with him, Grant, and Lillard all averaging above 21 points per game.
Tonight has the makings of another high scoring matchup. While both teams have been among the best offensively, they're both in the bottom-third in the league in defensive rating.
Portland has a plethora of offensive options. With Denver's already-mediocre defense, it is going to be difficult for them to contain Portland's offense, which is why I expect the Blazers to keep pace with Nuggets for most of this game.
The Nuggets also struggle greatly with Jokic on the bench. The Nuggets do not have a true backup center, and the offense struggles during Jokic's rest minutes. Without Jokic, they lack an interior threat. They also lack a true facilitator. Jokic plays more like a point guard than any true guard on the Nuggets roster, and it's no wonder why the offense has struggled in the limited time he is on the bench. The Blazers should be able to close any gaps while Jokic is resting, and I expect them to keep things close even with Jokic in the game.
Jokic is going to put up big numbers, but it's up to the Nuggets other options to supplement his scoring. Murray, Aaron Gordon, Bones Hyland, and others are all talented players, but none of them have demonstrated a ton of offensive consistency this year. Portland has those consistent offensive supplemental pieces that will be able to pick each other up if one is struggling.
I expect a close, high-scoring game tonight in Denver. Portland definitely has a chance to win this one outright and I can definitely see this one coming down to the final few possessions. Take the Blazers and the points, and if you're looking for even better odds, a sprinkling on the Blazers moneyline would be a good consideration as well.