As has been evident through the first week of the NBA's season restart in Orlando, every seeding game counts. Nearly every single game has had a significant impact on the standings.
Although the crowds are missing, at least physically and rightfully so, the seeding games have had a playoff-like atmosphere to them especially, given what's on the line.
After the first seven days, Week 2 of the seeding games tips-off with a heavyweight six-game slate. One of those six games features division rivals going at it in the Portland Trail Blazers and the Denver Nuggets -
Placed ninth heading into Day 8 of the bubble, Portland is attempting to make it's seventh straight postseason. So far, with some help from the other teams, they have kept their playoff hopes alive by going 2-1 in their three games. On the other hand, Denver is looking to lockup the seed of most convenience while being able to get some much-needed reps for their starting backcourt. Although they have gone 2-1 as well, it's come without any minutes from key starters in Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris.
Lots at stake, shorter rotations, and quick turnarounds with less time at the teams' disposal. Sounds familiar to the playoffs. Both these teams have faced-off at that stage before.
The epic & historic 7-game Conf. Semis
The Nuggets and Trail Blazers met in the Conference Semifinals in the 2019 playoffs. This was only the third time (previously 1977 and 1986) that both teams had met in the playoffs.
For Denver, the 2019 postseason was the franchise's first playoffs since 2013. By defeating the San Antonio Spurs in seven games in the first round, the Nuggets made their first Conference Semifinals appearance since 2009.
For Portland, who were forced to play all of the 2019 playoffs with their starting center Jusuf Nurkic being ruled out after suffering a gruesome leg injury, this series was the third Conference Semifinals appearance in their current playoff streak of six seasons. However, all through this streak, the team never managed to advance to the Conference Finals. In fact, they had no Conference Finals appearance since 2000.
As these two teams face-off in the bubble at the ESPN World Wide of Sports complex, here's a look back at all the key moments from their entertaining and competitive series from last year:
CJ McCollum's Game 7 heroics
Through six games, both these teams traded punches, made adjustments, but no winner could be declared. A winner-take-all Game 7 was required.
Early on in the decider, the young Nuggets took control of the game on their home floor and led by as many as 17 in the first half. The veteran Trail Blazers didn't let the game get out of hand and kept battling, before making their run in the third quarter.
CJ McCollum scored 22 of the team's 61 second-half points including a pair of clutch jumpers in the final couple of minutes of the game. His 37 points, a franchise record for a Game 7, led the team to their first Conference Finals since 2000.
With the team's All-Star Damian Lillard struggling to get going - just 13 points on 3-of-17 shooting - McCollum's performance was invaluable.
The 4 OT Game 3 classic
After both teams split the two games in Denver, the scenary changed but not the back-and-forth nature of the series.
An extra four sessions were required to settle Game 3, which the Trail Blazers clinched 140-137. In what was only the second 4OT playoff game in NBA history and the first in the shot-clock era (since 1953-54), CJ McCollum and Rodney Hood were the heroes.
McCollum scored 18 of his game-high and career-high 41 points in the four-overtime periods while Hood, who finished with a playoff career-high 19 (a record he broke later that series) for the game, provided a seven-point burst in the final two minutes of the game to seal it.
For the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic's herculean effort went in vain. He finished with 33 points (13-25 FG), 18 rebounds and 14 assists in 65 minutes of play, the 4th-most minutes played in a single NBA Playoff game.
Murray shows character in Game 4
Despite the heartbreaking nature of the loss in Game 3, Murray and the Nuggets bounced back in Game 4.
The Canadian started off red-hot, scoring 13 (5-6 FGs) of the team's 29 points in the first quarter. Towards the end, he showed off the ice in his veins, just like he had in Game 4 of the team's first-round series against the Spurs.
In the final 13 seconds of the game, he knocked down six clutch free-throws, ones that helped the team tie the series 2-2 instead of going down 3-1.
Nikola Jokic's monster numbers in debut playoffs
For his first career Conference Semifinals, the 24-year-old Serbian put up stellar numbers.
Across the seven games, he averaged 27.1 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 7.7 assists in 42.2 minutes per game. This after coming off a gruelling seven-game series against the San Antonio Spurs.
He broke multiple Denver Nuggets records like the most playoff triple-doubles (4), the first 30-point playoff triple-double in franchise history to name a few.
Portland's resilient next man up mentality
The Trail Blazers were already without Jusuf Nurkic, even before the 2019 postseason began, forcing them to start and play Enes Kanter heavy minutes.
During this series against Nuggets, the Turkish center battled a separated shoulder and Ramzan fasting (no food and water after sunrise or before sunset). Despite all of that, he battles the opposition's bigs in Jokic and Paul Millsap to average 12.7 points and 10.7 rebounds in 35.1 minutes.
Damian Lillard didn't have a great shooting series apart from Game 1. Whether that was the Nuggets' defensive assignment or fatigue due to the workload, he only averaged 22.8 points on 27.9% shooting from the field.
On his off-shooting games, apart from CJ McCollum, other Blazers stepped up and had huge games when it matter - Seth Curry (16 points in Game 4 in a loss) and Rodney Hood ( playoffs career-high 25 points in series-saving Game 6 win).
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