The Portland Trail Blazers will face off with the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2021 postseason. It will feature two perennial playoff teams who have tons of experience and the capability to make a deep run.
Though the Nuggets seem the better team on paper, they should never underestimate the Blazers, especially with Damian Lillard around. As such, they should build their scouting report and playbook with Lillard in mind.
On offense and defense, head coach Mike Malone should integrate Lillard as much as he can. Here are three ways the Nuggets can stop Dame Tim and eventually win the playoff series.
Cover Damian Lillard Full Court
Whenever Damian Lillard is on the floor, Mike Malone should tell his team to cover him full court. This is pretty much an automatic adjustment whenever you’re facing the Blazers. Lillard is known for making it rain from literally anywhere on the floor.–and these are not bad shots. The crazy thing is Lillard drains these long-distance bombs more often than not.
By hook or by crook, Dame will still get to his spots and establish a rhythm. He’ll likely catch the Nuggets defense sleeping and drain a couple of those logo 3-pointers. However, this shouldn’t stop the Nuggets from sticking to this defensive strategy. Like most top defenders keep on saying, it’s simply impossible to hold star players like Lillard scoreless. So the goal is to make him work for every shot.
Make Him Work On Defense
It’s unfortunate that Malone won’t be able to utilize Jamal Murray’s offensive talent to abuse Lillard. However, the Nuggets are a pretty deep team with a lot of weapons. Austin Rivers has plenty of offensive potential, which will give Lillard headaches. Facundo Campazzo, too, given his superb vision and playmaking abilities, will confuse the hell out of Lillard.
However, one player that can downright pummel Lillard is Michael Porter Jr. The 22-year-old stands 6-foot-10, but he possesses the ball-handling and shooting abilities of a guard. Expect Malone to force Lillard to switch on him. Lillard’s fast hands may be of great help in trying to stop the bigger Porter Jr, but when MPJ decides to force his way to the hoop with brute strength, then there’s not much Lillard can do but call for help.
After they punish him on defense, the Nuggets will have a slightly easier job on covering Lillard. As noted earlier, Lillard will work his way to his spots and get his teammates involved. Nonetheless, Dame won’t be able to maintain the same explosiveness and sharpness if the Nuggets keep him busy on defense.
Put A Bigger Defender On Damian Lillard
Kobe Bryant once said that we should be thankful that Allen Iverson isn’t 6-foot-5. In a way, the adage applies to Lillard who just stands at 6-foot-2. At the end of the day, the taller and bigger player has the advantage over the smaller ones.
Apart from being a threat from literally anywhere on the floor, Lillard is also an excellent playmaker himself. So a good way to block his vision is by simply fielding taller players against him.
The danger would be to place someone bigger than Lillard but way slower than him. Porter Jr. is a pretty mobile big guy who can stay in front of Lillard, but it’s close to impossible to do it the entire series. As such, expect the likes of Austin Rivers or PJ Dozier—both of which are slightly taller than Lillard—to take this defensive assignment.