Six-Game Road Trip Starts With A Loss In Denver

by Casey Holdahl
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DENVER -- After spending the better part of the last month at home, the Trail Blazers started a six-game road trip with a 140-108 loss to the Denver Nuggets in front of a crowd of 14,972 Thursday night at Ball Arena.

The Trail Blazers are now 16-25 overall and 2-14 on the road at the midway point of the 2021-22 season. With the win, the Nuggets now hold a 2-1 lead in the season series with one game remaining.

Portland entered Thursday’s contest with just 10 players in uniform with Damian Lillard (abdominal tendinopathy), CJ McCollum (right lung pneumothorax), Norman Powell (health and safety protocols), Larry Nance Jr. (right knee inflammation) Anfernee Simons (personal reasons) and (Cody Zeller (right patellar fracture) all sitting out. Simons is expected to be back for Portland’s next contest, while McCollum, Nance Jr. and Powell are all expected to join the team at some point during their near two-week road trip.

“You just want to try to execute your stuff,” said Billups. “We know what we have at the time, it is what it is. But you just want to try to go out and kind of execute your stuff... It was just okay. We had some good moments, but just okay. I thought we had a couple guys trying to do a little too much.”

With the absences, the Trail Blazers managed to keep Thursday’s contest close for much of the first quarter. But a 14-1 Denver run late in the first quarter gave the home team a 41-28 lead going into the second.

“We had a good quarter going in the first quarter and that last three, four minutes, just kind of not having a ball handler out there, had to give Dennis (Smith) a break,” said Billups. “Man and that... they jumped out there on us and it was kind of tough to maintain from there.”

Portland never managed to get the lead down to single digits at any point of the game thereafter, with Denver going up by as many as 37 in the fourth.

Dennis Smith Jr., who started in place of Simons Thursday night, went 7-of-12 from the field and 3-of-5 from three for 17 points to go with eight assists, two rebounds and a steal in 36 minutes.

“I thought Dennis did his job,” said Billups. “He obviously played well -- 17 and eight, only one turnover in 36 minutes. I know he was tired, this altitude, they’re pushing it, he’s guarding little, quick guards. But I thought Dennis was good on both ends of the floor. He gave us exactly what we needed from that spot at the time.”

Ben McLemore went 6-of-14 from the field and 4-of-9 from three to finish with 18 points along with four assists, two steals and a block in 29 minutes.

Nassir Little had 14 points, four rebounds, two assists and a block in 27 minutes. Robert Covington added 10 points, seven rebounds and four steals in 30 minutes. Jusuf Nurkic contributed 10 points, eight rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block in 25 minutes.

Will Barton led the Nuggets with 21 points before leading the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent head injury. Nikola Jokic put up 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting, eight rebounds and seven assists.

Next up, the Trail Blazers have a day off before facing the Wizards in Washington, DC on Saturday in the first of five-straight games versus teams from the Eastern Conference. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.

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