Denver Nuggets, NBA

Denver Nuggets need to maintain lockdown 3-point defense vs. Portland

The Denver Nuggets have defended the 3-point line at a high level all season, and they’ll need to keep it up against the Portland Trail Blazers.

After losing their 2017-18 regular season finale and missing the playoffs, the Denver Nuggets went 54-28 and earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference this year. The team’s offensive numbers weren’t as outstanding as it’s easy to assume, but they did allow the sixth-fewest points in the league (106.7 per game).

The Nuggets were good at keeping teams off the offensive glass, but they were otherwise widely middle of the pack in the deeper defensive stats. But as the 3-point shot has taken over the league, Denver led the league in opponent’s shooting percentage from beyond the arc during the regular season (33.9 percent).

The Nuggets keep it up in their first round playoff series, holding the San Antonio Spurs to 6-for-23 from 3-point range in Game 7 and 33.8 percent from beyond the arc for the series. Denver stifled volume too, as the Spurs attempted just 19.9 3-pointers per game in the first round series and made 6.7 per contest.

After beating the Spurs Saturday night, Nuggets coach Mike Malone gave credit to his team’s stifling perimeter defense.

As Malone cited, just last year the Nuggets were last in the league in opponent 3-point percentage (37.8 percent). The difference was not in volume, as they were bottom half of the league in 3-point attempts allowed per game in 2017-18 and this past regular season.

As they prepare for their second-round series, the Nuggets will see a challenge to their defense. The Portland Trail Blazers were ninth in the league in 3-point percentage during the regular season (35.9 percent), on the 18th-most attempts (30.7 per game). In their first-round series against Oklahoma City, the Trail Blazers converted at more than a 40 percent clip from beyond the arc on essentially one more attempt per game compared to the regular season (31.6 per game).

Portland is of course led by their backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The two accounted for 43 of the team’s 64 3-point makes over the five games against the Thunder and 92 of the team’s 158 overall attempts. The next-highest make and attempt totals in the series came from Al-Farouq Aminu (9-for-22), and Seth Curry, who went 6-for-11 from beyond the arc.

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The Nuggets went up 3-1 against the Trail Blazers during the regular season, so they should have some confidence going into Game 1 on Monday night. But they can have no let down in their lockdown defense at the 3-point line, with Jamal Murray and Gary Harris leading the effort via their individual matchups.

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