Lillard-Less Blazers Fall Well Short Versus Nuggets

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- The Portland Trail Blazers fell to 16-16 overall and 7-10 at home this season after falling 102-85 to the Denver Nuggets in front of a sellout crowd of 19,474 Friday night at the Moda Center.

Portland have now lost three in a row and their last six at the Moda Center. The victory is the Nuggets' first at the Moda Center in their last 10 tries, a streak dating back to February 2013.

“We didn’t play a very good game," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "Obviously they won every quarter, they rebounded the ball well. I thought our bench guys did a good job for a while in the first half, got us back in the game. We just didn’t do very many things well enough to come close to winning the game tonight.”

After going down by as many as 11 in the first quarter, the Trail Blazers fought their way back into the game by going on a 14-2 run to take a 31-30 lead early in the second quarter. But the Nuggets would answer back with a 13-2 run of their own to take a 52-38 lead, though Portland would cut that to 52-41 by the halftime intermission.

But the Trail Blazers, playing without Damian Lillard (right hamstring strain) didn't have the firepower to put up much of a fight in the second quarter. Other than a brief moment in which they got Denver's lead down to nine early in the third quarter, the Trail Blazers were down by double figures. The Nuggets would push their lead to 21 in the fourth quarter, their largest of the night, before coasting to the 17-point victory as fans streamed out of the building early.

TOP SCORERS

The Trail Blazers were led by CJ McCollum, who went for 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting from the field and 1-of-5 shooting from three to go with three assists and three rebounds in 34 minutes. Shabazz Napier, who played 37 minutes in Damian Lillard's absence, went 6-of-15 from the field for 14 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals. 

Pat Connaughton added 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and four rebounds in 21 minutes. Jusuf Nurkić and Zach Collins both finished with 10 points, which is a career-high for the rookie out of Gonzaga.

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic led all scorers with 27 points to go with eight rebounds, six assists and two blocks in 37 minutes. Wilson Chandler put up a double-double of 21 points, 11 assists in 42 minutes. Gary Harris added 17 points while Will Barton and Trey Lyles scored 12 and 10 points, respectively, off the bench.

LISTEN UP

NUGGETS PAINT THE TOWN

The Nuggets led by as many as 11 points in the first quarter, though the Trail Blazers were able to cut the deficit to 28-22 before the start of the second. But there was one stat in that first quarter that led one to believe it was going to be a long night for the home team: points in the paint. The Nuggets scored 26 of their 28 first-quarter points in the paint, with their lone two points that weren't scored in the paint coming from the free throw line.

“First quarter, 26 out of their 28 points were in the paint, that’s not good enough," said Terry Stotts. "You can’t give up 26 points in the paint in a quarter. We didn’t put much resistance in the paint handling their dribble handoffs and challenging shots at the rim.”

A team scoring that many points in the paint is going to be hard to stop, and that proved to be the case for the rest of the evening, with the Nuggets finishing the night outscoring the Trail Blazers 64-46 in the key.

LILLARD OUT, THOUGH HOPEFULLY NOT FOR LONG

Friday night's game was the first this season that the Trail Blazers have been without Damian Lillard, who suffered a right hamstring strain in the third quarter of Portland's loss to the Spurs on Wednesday. And though he hasn't officially been declared out for Saturday's game in Los Angeles versus the Lakers, he said pregame that he would likely sit out that contest as well, especially with four days off until they play the Sixers on December 28.

"I think having that break after tomorrow, when we don’t play until the 28th is going to be good," said Lillard. "So obviously not playing tonight, sit out tomorrow, just use the rest of that time to get treatment and get some workouts in and get right."

Though he's only missed 12 games in his first five NBA season, Lillard is no stranger to injuries. He battled plantar fasciitis for much of the 2015-16 season and missed missed time with a sprained left ankle during the 2016-17 campaign, but has always returned to the court relatively quickly. But hamstring injuries are notoriously fickle, prompting some to wonder if perhaps the 6-3 guard out of Weber State might miss more than two games, even with four days off to get healthy.

But Lillard noted Friday night that his condition was already improving and that he's confident he'll be back in the lineup sooner rather than later.

"I can’t play, I know that," said Lillard. "Yesterday it was pretty sore and I started panicking a little bit. So I went outside my house after treatment and started marching and trying to get some high knees in to make sure. I know that it’s a process, but I feel good. It’s not something that I’m concerned about."

THEY SAID IT

"For some reason we have a problem at home. We definitely want to win at home. If you want to be a playoff team you have to win at home. For some reason we have an issue right now, but like I said, there’s no quit, so we need to fight and figure it out." -- Jusuf Nurkić on the Trail Blazers losing their last six games at home

NIGHTLY NOTABLE

• The Trail Blazers reserves outscored their Denver counterparts, 50-22.

• Portland forced the Nuggets into 14 turnovers while turning the ball over just 10 times. It is the first time this season that Portland has had 10 or fewer turnovers in consecutive games.

• The Trail Blazers had six steals while the Nuggets had four steals.

• Portland held the Nuggets to seven three-pointers (of 25). Portland has held its opponents to seven or fewer three pointers in four consecutive games, representing the second longest streak in the NBA this season (five, L.A. Lakers, Nov. 8-15).

NEXT UP

The Trail Blazers head south to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers in the second game of a back-to-back Saturday night at Staples Center before a four-day break for the Christmas holiday.

"We've just got to come out and be aggressive," said CJ McCollum. "I think aggressive mistakes are good. So going over the back, take some of those fouls, try to take charges, things of that nature to where it looks like we're putting on imprint in the game."

Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Northwest and Rip City Radio 620 AM.