Hickson rebounds in more ways than one for Nuggets

Denver forward grabs 25 boards after being moved from the starting lineup
by Aaron Lopez

J.J. Hickson was a human pogo stick, rising for rebounds at a rate not seen by a Nuggets player in nearly 17 years.

“He was a monster on the boards,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said.

Coming off the bench for the first time since Nov. 8, Hickson grabbed a career-high 25 rebounds – including a team NBA-record 15 offensive boards – in Denver’s 100-95 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Hickson’s previous best was a 24-rebound performance at Golden State on Jan. 15. He joins Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard as the only players with two 24-plus rebound games this season.

“Twenty-five boards is exciting, but the win would have been even more exciting,” Hickson said. “I like the way we fought. I like the way we kept our head up when we were down, and I like the way we stayed engaged the whole game.”

Hickson became the first Nuggets player since Ervin Johnson on April 19, 1997, to grab at least 25 rebounds. He also joined Andray Blatche and Dennis Rodman as the only NBA players to secure at least 15 offensive rebounds since December 1997.

The strong performance came after Shaw opted to start 7-foot-1 center Timofey Mozgov and bring Hickson off the bench. Hickson played nearly 30 minutes, including all 12 as the Nuggets rallied in the fourth quarter.

“I told J.J., ‘Don’t let coming off the bench affect you. Just come out and respond by playing hard,’ ” teammate Randy Foye said. “He bounced back and worked hard. He did a great job and was a big part of the comeback.”

Hickson finished with 16 points, including six after grabbing the offensive rebound.

“It seemed to fire J.J. up,” Shaw said of Hickson’s response to a reserve role. “He was very energetic. He was a monster on the boards, especially on the offensive boards. So that’s the kind of effort that I want to see.”

Hickson, who embraced the opportunity to return to his natural position at power forward, had no qualms about being removed from the starting lineup, particularly after recording a combined seven points and nine rebounds in his previous two games.

“I felt like I was due for a good game,” he said. “I definitely played starter minutes tonight. People always tell me, it’s not who starts the game, it’s who finishes. Coach made the call to let me finish the game. That shows he has a lot of confidence in me still.”