At the outset of the NBA Western Conference semi-finals between the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets, the perception on the part of a lot of pundits was that Enes Kanter, who had taken over the starting center slot for the Blazers in place of the injured Jusuf Nurkic, might get eaten alive by Nikola Jokic, the multi-dimensional pivot man for the Nuggets. It didn’t look that way at the beginning, but Jokic has really asserted himself against the defensively-challenged Kanter.
And now it looks as if Kanter is not only getting eaten alive, but not eating. And who knows if that’s a problem too.
Kanter, as a devout Muslim, is observing Ramadan, which has a duration of one month, starting May 5. As part of this religious practice, fasting is mandatory from sunrise to sunset. That means no food and no water either.
What is important to note is that this is the first time Kanter is actually performing in the NBA playoffs while observing Ramadan. And unless he and his teammates come up big on Thursday night, he’ll be able to observe the rest of the period as a non-participant. The Blazers are down three games to two, and take the floor in the do-or-die situation at 10:35 PM ET at the Moda Center in Portland.
In the NBA playoff betting odds posted on this game, the Blazers are the favorites:
Portland Trail Blazers -4 (-103)
Denver Nuggets +4 (-107)
Over 215.5 points (-105)
Under 215.5 points (-105)
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Ramadan began on May 5. Before that, Kanter had scored 59 points on 60% shooting with 31 rebounds, five steals and three blocked shots in the first three games of the series. In these last two, he’s had just a dozen points, making four of his 14 shots, with one block and no steals.
Is it because he is weak from fasting? Well, we’re not sure about that, but wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was. The general consensus is that even it takes several days, at the very least, to start getting into the fasting routine. And this is a unique situation as far as Kanter’s playing status goes. He was concerned enough to reach out and contact Hakeem Olajuwon, who was well-known to have excelled through Ramadan, often suffering no drop-off at all in his play.
Perhaps it should be noted that with night games, Kanter can sneak in some water or even some food while the contest is in progress, since it is post-sunset. The question isn’t necessarily what Kanter can and can’t do and when he can or can’t do it, but rather, whether getting himself settled into his Ramadan routine while he’s playing has thrown him off to a significant extent.
Of course, it doesn’t help Kanter that he is working with an inured shoulder. In the previous series against Oklahoma City, Kanter was thrown into extended minutes but wasn’t necessarily that vulnerable against Steven Adams. When you go against Jokic, however, it is a different ballgame. He’s had a couple of ups and downs, to be certain, but he has shot almost 53%, averaged 26.4 points and 14.4 rebounds, and has more assists than anyone else on either team in this series – by a wide margin. In the playoffs so far, he’s already had four triple-doubles, which is extraordinary for a center.
Denver has an Offensive Rating of 116.8 in this series (which, projected over the course of the season, would have led the NBA), and they’ve not only turned it over less frequently and gotten to the free throw line more frequently (on a percentage basis), but they have an offensive rebounding percentage of 32.1%. And amazingly, the Blazers have a dismal 14-30-1 ATS playoff mark under Terry Stotts. It is the Jokic-Kanter matchup (or mismatch, as it were) that tips the scales in the Nuggets’ favor here.
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