The #2 Denver Nuggets host the #3 Portland Trailblazers in Game 7 elimination game of the Western Conference Semifinals, and the #2 Toronto Raptors host #3 Philadelphia Sixers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The winners on Sunday will advance to the conference finals to await the top seeds: Golden State Warriors in the West and the Milwaukee Bucks in the East.
Greek Freak and the Bucks easily dispatched the Boston Celtics in five games to advance to the Eastern Finals. Despite losing Kevin Durant to a calf injury in Game 5, the Golden State Warriors went into Houston for Game 6 and knocked out James Harden and the Rockets.
The Raptors and Nuggets were both up 3-2 in their respective series before losing Game 6 on the road. They now have a chance to advance with Game 7 on their home courts.
Portland: CJ/Damian Show
Call this the battle of Lillard/McCollum versus Jokic/Murray. Both teams have masterful dynamic duos that score the bulk of their team’s points.
The Blazers tantalizing backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are averaging a combined 54.3 points per game through 11 playoff appearances. Lillard is averaging almost 30 points per game in the postseason. They are combining for 7 three-pointer per game with McCollum nailing 41 percent of them.
The Blazers desperately need a third scorer. Lillard and McCollum will get their points, but quiet games from Enes Kanter or Rodney Hood will benefit the Nuggets.
Hood emerged as a go-to guy off the bench for head coach Terry Stotts. He hit several clutch shots in the four overtime sessions in Game 3’s marathon. Hood also scored a career-high in Game 6 to force a Game 7.
Kanter is averaging 13 points and 10.4 rebounds in the playoffs. He averaged almost 20 points per game in the first three games of the Denver series with 26 points in Game 1. However, the Nuggets shut down Kanter in the last three games, who scored only 18 total points and averaging only 6 points per game. The Blazers are 1-2 over that stretch.
Denver Nuggets: Gasping for Air
The future is bright in Denver with the emergence of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic as two of the brightest young stars in the league. Jokic has the ability to post a triple-double in any playoff contest… so long as he doesn’t foul out. The center has been able to thrive on the perimeter, or get down and dirty on the blocks. Jokic is one of the best passing big men in the league. He’s averaging 24.8 points, 13 rebounds, and nearly 9 assists per game in the playoffs.
Murray is scoring 21.6 points per game in the postseason. If there’s a weakness to his game, he’s been erratic from long range hitting only 35.4 percent of his three-pointers.
Paul Millsap and Gary Harris are the X-factors for the Nuggets. They combined for 29.2 points per game in the postseason. Millsap stepped up with a big night in Game 5, which helped the Nuggets secure their third win in the series. Millsap averaged just 12.6 points per game in the regular season, but he’d increased his output to 15 points per night in the playoffs. Simply put, when Millsap scores 19 or more points against the Blazers, then the Nuggets lose. When he scores 18 or fewer, the Nuggets are 0-3. Going back to the opening-round series against the Spurs, the Nugs are also 4-0 in the postseason when Millsap scores 19 or more.
The biggest obstacle for the Blazers is the altitude. The Nuggets boasted the best home record in the NBA this season. They lost only seven games all season. Including the playoffs, the Nugs are 39-9.
Toronto/Philly: Kawhi Swan Song and the Ghost of Ben Simmons
Kawhi Leonard’s days with the Toronto Raptors are numbered. But you wouldn’t even notice that if you glanced at the boxscore. Leonard has not been shy about where he wants to play next season (somewhere in Los Angeles, most likely the Clippers). But Leonard been a beast in the playoffs for Toronto, which included a 39-point outburst in Game 4. Leonard averaged 26.6 points per game this season but he’s been scoring 31 points per night and hauling down 8.5 rebounds in the postseason.
Pascal Siakam has been gutting his way through injuries, but still is second on the Raptors in scoring with 21.6 points per game. Kyle Lowry has been a downer for Toronto. He’s struggled with only 12.6 points per game including 29 percent from three-point range (down from 14.2 ppg and 35 percent clip from downtown).
Joel Embiid has been fighting a list of maladies including a bad stomach and the flu. He’s still leading the Sixers in points with 20.1 per game. Jimmy Butler is reliable on both ends of the court, which is why the Sixers acquired him in a trade earlier in the season.
Ben Simmons, mostly known for his romantic link with model/influencer Kendall Jenner, has been a ghost in this series. Simmons is averaging only 14 points per game, or three fewer than his regular season average. He’s averaged just 11.3 points per game against the Raptors this series even though he’s hitting 59 percent of his shots.
Game 7 Lines
According to William Hill, the Toronto Raptors are a 6.5-point favorite at home over the Philly Sixers. The over/under total is 210.5.
The Denver Nuggets are 5.5-point favorites at home over the Portland Trailblazers. The over/under total the Nugs/Blazers Game 7 is 213.
According to the South Point Casino and Sports Book in Las Vegas, the Toronto Raptors are 12/1 odds to win the NBA championship. The Denver Nuggets are 25/1 odds to win the title. The Philly Sixers are 35/1 odds and the Portland Blazers are the long shot on the board at 40/1 odds to win the championship.