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Nuggets vs. Timberwolves: Why Michael Porter Jr. is Denver’s biggest X-factor in second-round playoff series

DENVER — The Denver Nuggets‘ success this season has been heavily tied to the star duo of likely NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and clutch shot-maker Jamal Murray. However, it will take more for the reigning champs to get past the Minnesota Timberwolves in what already looks like a tough second-round playoff series. Michael Porter Jr. showed in Saturday’s Game 1 loss he could be Denver’s X-factor.

Although the Nuggets took a 106-99 loss to open the series and surrendered home-court advantage in the process, this series is far from over. Murray is not 100% healthy and did not practice all week. He still managed to drop 17 points while being primarily guarded by Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards, but he was held scoreless in the first half. 

The Timberwolves jumped out to a 14-point lead early on, but with Murray slowed, Porter stepped up to help Jokic by contributing with 13 points and the Nuggets entered halftime with a 44-40 advantage. In those first two quarters, Porter went 4-for-7 from the field with his primary defender being Jaden McDaniels – who did a solid job against SunsDevin Booker and Kevin Durant in the first round.

“On this team I don’t have the ball in my hands most of the game, so I just have to be aggressive and try to find the ball when I can and be ready to make plays,” Porter said. “And just be aggressive because this is a good defensive team. It’s going to take a collective scoring effort to beat these guys.”

Jokic finished the night with a team-high 32 points, while Porter put up 20, including four 3-pointers. Porter was the Nuggets’ leading 3-point shooter this season and hit 39.7% of his attempts from long range. He’ll need to keep connecting against Minnesota as the Timberwolves are the sixth best team in the league when it comes to 3-point defense.

Porter has been averaging 22.3 points per contest while shooting 53.9% from the field and an eye-popping 50% (24 for 48) from 3-point range during the playoffs. The numbers are already impressive, and become even more noteworthy given the fact that Porter is also dealing with some difficult off-court issues involving his brothers. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has given him a lot of credit for showing up for the team and said it spoke to his strength. 

Porter averaged 16.7 points during the regular season, so his efforts are already clearly showing up on the stat sheet. Murray worsened his injury during Game 4 against the Lakers and, although he had two game-winners in that first-round series, he is not looking quite like himself yet and the team will need Porter — along with others on the team — to continue to step up. Game 2 is set for Monday night in Denver.

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