We’re midway through the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs
and we’ve seen some great performances. Both from a team standpoint
and on an individual level.
I love playoff time because it’s a proving ground. Young players
with promise get to show that they’re the real deal, while the
contenders get separated from the pretenders.
When it comes to the playoffs, there are always some interesting
storylines and matchups to follow, but the one I’m most interested
in is the 3-6 series out West: the Denver Nuggets vs. the Portland
The Nuggets took Game 3 and regained homecourt advantage, but I
picked Portland to win the series. Obviously, after the loss, Game
4 is a must-win if I’m going to be right, so Damian Lillard and his
guys definitely have their backs up against wall.
Personally, I’m hoping Portland finds a way to win and that we
get an extended series, because I love everything about watching
these teams match up — Lillard, Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr.
and Carmelo Anthony are all reasons why.
There are a lot of interesting things to watch for, with Lillard
being top of mind for me.
We’re living in this era of “super-teams” and guys joining
forces to win, but it’s admirable the way that Dame has remained
loyal to Portland, both as an organization and a city.
In some ways, you could compare Dame to Paul Pierce. In those
lean years, Pierce remained loyal to Boston and eventually got a
title and a Finals MVP out of it. But he had a legendary franchise
and a great city to help recruit talent. Dame doesn’t really have
All due respect to Portland, but among NBA players, it’s not one
of those places you look forward to playing a road game.
Los Angeles? For sure. Miami? Hell yeah. New York and Boston.
Portland? Not so much.
There’s a reason why the team has had to build through the draft
and trades; unless they grossly overpay for a talented free agent,
guys aren’t typically excited about moving out to the Pacific
Northwest. ‘Melo himself is an example of that.
Dame doesn’t care about any of that, though.
Every year, he goes out and gets better and better. He has that
old-school mindset of committing to an organization and doing all
he can to bring it a championship, and I think he deserves a lot of
respect for that. He doesn’t cry about anything, doesn’t make any
excuses and just goes out there and lights up the competition to
the best of his ability. He’s confident, yet humble. All things
considered, it’s easy to root for him in his situation, and whether
he’s able to actually carry that team and that roster to the next
level is something that purists should have a vested interest
That’s why I’ll be watching, just like I’ll be watching the
If I had an MVP vote, I would have voted for Chris Paul
(as I explained here). I stand by
that. It’s unfortunate that he got hurt against the Los Angeles
Lakers because he probably could’ve made more of a difference for
Phoenix in Game 2 and Game 3. But it is what it is. Injuries are a
part of the game.
Whether you’re like me and believe CP deserved more credit for
what he did for Phoenix, you really can’t deny what Joker has
become. He has become one of the top players in the league and has
only gotten better since Jamal Murray went down. I think most of us
predicted that Denver would be an early-out in the playoffs, but
Joker’s regular-season play has carried over into the postseason,
at least so far. He has hit big shots, is closing games effectively
and appears to be in better shape than he was in years past.
He’s been able to put the Nuggets on his back and carry them,
and so far, Portland hasn’t had an answer. Whether he’s hitting
shots from the outside or posting inside, he’s a super versatile
big who is proving that he not only deserves consideration for the
regular-season MVP award, but that he’s one of the true superstars
in the NBA. He’s made me a believer. Now, let’s see if he can
finish the job.
‘Melo is gonna try to help the Blazers make sure he doesn’t.
As far as ‘Melo is concerned, I think a lot of us appreciate
what he’s been able to do with his second chance. He was a guy who
was basically discarded by Houston and a lot of people thought he
was done and could no longer play the game. He got an opportunity
with Portland and proved everybody wrong. Now, the team is somewhat
relying on him to play a major role and be that third player who
can make a big shot or two down the stretch of a tight game. They
need that from him.
The fact that he’s playing against the team that drafted him —
and the fact that the fans booed him there in Game 1 and Game 2 —
just adds a little bit of juice to what was already a very
competitive series. Through three games, he’s played about 22
minutes and scored 13 points per game. Those are respectable
numbers, but if Portland wants to win this thing, they’ll probably
need more from him.
‘Melo became a top-10 scorer in NBA history earlier this season
and he can still get buckets. But he’s going to turn 37 years old
on May 29, the day the teams will play Game 4.
Can he dig deeper, find the fountain of youth on his birthday
and elevate his game? He’ll have to for Portland to have a shot,
because Porter Jr. has proven that he is no slouch.
And that brings me to the youngin’.
Last year in the bubble, remember when Porter Jr. became the
talk of the town because he publicly voiced his grievance about not
getting enough touches and that the team was too predictable and
too reliant on Jokic and Murray?
When a player makes comments like that, especially a young
player, it basically paints a big target on their back. Not only
does it make you a topic of discussion among fans and media, it
puts pressure on you to perform well when your number gets
With Murray out, Denver came into the series knowing that they
needed Porter Jr. to step his game up and be a difference-maker.
Through the first three games of the series, he’s done that. He’s
scored 19.3 points on 49% shooting from the field, and for a
second-year player, that’s impressive. But for Porter, it’s even
more impressive considering the pressure he was facing after his
public complaint last season.
All around, respect is due.
By the time the playoffs roll around, every team has had issues:
injuries, losing streaks, tough losses, whatever.
Most of the time, it’s the mentally tough teams and those who
have had better fortune who prevail in a playoff series.
It’s still a bit too early to call Denver vs. Portland, but by
the time it all ends, I’m pretty sure we will have heard from
Joker, Lillard, ‘Melo, Porter Jr. and scores of others.
I love the playoffs. And to imagine, we’re just getting