Nuggets move on to face Blazers in 2nd round of playoffs
AP Sports Writer
DENVER — The celebration will be short-lived for the Denver Nuggets after winning a playoff series for the first time in a decade.
After all, Portland awaits.
The Nuggets knocked off San Antonio 90-86 in Game 7 on Saturday night to move on to the Western Conference semifinals.
A mere hours after their big win — their first series victory since 2009 — the second-seeded Nuggets host a rested Trail Blazers team. Game 1 is Monday, with Game 2 on Wednesday before shifting to Portland. The Blazers have had a few days off after beating Oklahoma City in five games.
“I’ve learned over the years you take your accomplishments and you celebrate them. Tonight, celebrate,” Nuggets forward Paul Millsap said. “This is a big accomplishment for this team, big accomplishment for this organization. You’ve got to celebrate it. A lot of people didn’t give us a chance to win.”
On Sunday afternoon, it’s back to the business of basketball. Denver was 3-1 against the Blazers in the regular season.
“It’s the next challenge. We’re going to come in locked in,” Nuggets guard Gary Harris said. “We’ll watch a lot of film and we’ll be ready.”
Although the Nuggets had some success against Portland this season, they expect to see an entirely different version. Portland lost Jusuf Nurkic when he broke his leg in an overtime victory at home over the Brooklyn Nets on March 25.
They could be without Enes Kanter, whose status for the second round of the playoffs remains uncertain because of a shoulder injury.
“It’s playoff basketball. They’re going to come with some new stuff we haven’t seen,” guard Monte Morris said. “We’re not going to be 100 percent as far as being prepared. They’ve got guys over there who can just break a play off and call their own number.”
More specifically, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard, who hit the winner at the buzzer close out the Thunder on his way to a 50-point night.
“Damian Lillard right now is playing at another level,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.
The same goes with Nikola Jokic, who posted two triple-doubles in the series against the Spurs. Told his numbers for the series — 162 points, 85 rebounds, 64 assists — Jokic quickly added another:
“And win,” he said.
Jokic certainly left an impression on San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.
“He’s magnificent, magnificent,” Popovich said. “I’ll just leave it at that.”
Since making the Western Conference finals in 2009, the Nuggets have bowed out in the first round on four occasions. This was their first playoff appearance in six seasons.
“We’ll turn the page and start getting ready for them,” Malone said.
First, though, a little celebrating.
“We worked hard for this win and we’re not going to let anyone take it away from us,” Millsap said. “We’re prepared. We’ve been prepared for them all year. I think we’ve got a pretty good scout on them. Damian Lillard’s on a tear right now. Try to calm him down is going to be key for us.”
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Amid hundreds of cleat-footed little leaguers casually gathered along the first baseline, the glare of parents’ sunglasses deflecting the early morning sun, coach Troy Phillips began a trip down memory lane.