Effort, Urgency Questioned In Loss To Nuggets

by Casey Holdahl
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DENVER -- The Portland Trail Blazers finished up a four-game road trip with a 124-95 loss to the Denver Nuggets in front of a crowd of 14,583 Sunday night at Ball Arena.

“We missed some shots in the first quarter but I was confused that I don’t think we came to compete in this game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “This is a team that beat us in the playoffs last year and we come and don’t even compete in the first quarter, a little disappointed in that effort. You can’t control if shots will or won’t go down -- we got some good looks -- but just no fight in them.”

The Trail Blazers are now 6-8 overall and 1-7 on the road this season. Portland got their first road win of the season, a 119-109 victory versus the Rockets on November 12, on the now-completed trip, though they lost the other three by an average of 15.6 points.

While Sunday’s contest was technically the standard 48-minute affair, there was little question what the outcome would be roughly seven minutes into the first quarter. Portland started the game by shooting 2-of-15 from the field and 0-of-8 from three while the Nuggets got just about anything they wanted anywhere inside halfcourt.

“No matter who plays or not, it should never control whether you play with urgency and desperation,” said Billups. “Things are different when you’ve got somebody different running the point or calling the plays, this and that, but none of those things should ever change how hard you play or the urgency.”

Portland trailed by as many as 17 in the first quarter before entering the second down 33-18. From there on, the game was little more than the Trail Blazers cutting the deficit down to low double digits before the Nuggets pushed it back up to something more comfortable.

Portland would actually outscore Denver in the second and third quarters, but by nowhere near enough to make the game competitive. And rather than leaving any lingering chance of a miraculous comeback, Denver outscored Portland 18-4 in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter to guarantee a victory that was never really in doubt.

“I could see if we come out, we play our behinds off and we just run out of gas, I could live with that,” said Billups. “But I don’t like losing like this. This game was over, even though we kept fighting and we kept scrapping, it was like we kept it to 10, 12 here or there, guy hit a shot. That’s not a game.”

CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers in scoring with 21 points on 7-of-17 shooting from the field and 5-of-10 shooting from three to go with two assists, two rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes.

Anfernee Simons, who got the fifth start of his career with Damian Lillard out due to lower abdominal tendinopathy, went 6-of-11 for 16 points while also adding five rebounds, four assists and a block in 28 minutes.

Nassir Little came off the bench to put up 13 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block in 29 minutes. Norman Powell also finished with 13 points to round out Portland’s double digit scorers.

Nikola Jokic finished with a game-high 28 points while coming close to a triple-double with nine assists and nine rebounds in 28 minutes. Rookie Nah'Shon Highland had 18 points off the bench and Monte Morris added 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

The Trail Blazers now head home, though they won’t have much time to rest up, as they host the Toronto Raptors Monday night in the second game of a back-to-back, their second in less than a week, and their fifth game in seven nights. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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