Denver Nuggets 127, Portland Trail Blazers 99: Three takeaways

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

There are just some nights in which everything goes right. For the Denver Nuggets, that night came on Tuesday in their 127-99 victory against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Nuggets built a significant lead early in the second quarter and never looked back as they clinched the season series against their division rival.

"I think our guys took on the challenge of guarding a great player," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "I thought we just tried to make it tough on him. All around it was a really good win for us."

It was a back-and-forth affair to begin the game, as the two teams traded baskets throughout the first six minutes of action. Both teams shot around 45 percent during this stretch, in which the game was tied at 14. Nikola Jokić took over down the stretch of the first quarter and ultimately finished with 15 points in the frame. Denver’s offense was firing on all cylinders to close the quarter as the Nuggets took a 37-28 lead after one. The Pepsi Center crowd received a jolt of energy at the end of the quarter following an and-one layup from Malik Beasley.

The scoring slowed down to begin the second quarter, but the Nuggets were still able to extend their lead to double-digits after four minutes. Denver’s defense stifled Portland’s offense during this span, as the Trail Blazers shot 1 of 8 from the field. As Portland continued to struggle offensively, the Nuggets took a commanding 24-point lead late in the half. Denver took a 64-38 advantage into the halftime break following a 10-point second quarter from the Trail Blazers. Jokić continued to pile on the points with six more in the second quarter.

"I thought that first half was one of our better halves of the season," Malone added.

The Nuggets continued to pile it on to begin the third quarter, as the lead reached 31 points following back-to-back 3-pointers from Will Barton III. Denver maintained a lead at or around 30 points throughout the majority of the quarter as Portland had no answer for the Nuggets’ offensive attack. The Trail Blazers made a small run to end the third but the lead sat at 100-74 heading into the final quarter.

The Nuggets bounced back to push the lead back up over 30 points early in the fourth quarter. Following a timeout around the seven-minute mark of the quarter both coaches went deep into their reserves to close out the game.

Here are three takeaways from Denver’s win:

Joker continued to dominate

Jokić came into Tuesday’s contest with solid, if not unspectacular averages of 20 points and 12 rebounds per game against Portland. Well on Tuesday, the Serbian big man had 21 points in the first half alone and routinely got what he wanted against Hassan Whiteside.

Even with Jamal Murray back in the lineup, Denver’s two-time All-Star big man fueled the impressive offensive performance for the Nuggets with 29 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists in his 31 minutes of play. Jokić played at an MVP level throughout January and that play is only improving to begin February.

Denver’s defense took control early

The Trail Blazers scored 10 points in the second quarter. That’s a good starting point when discussing the Nuggets’ dominant defensive display on Tuesday. Portland came into Tuesday’s contest on a hot streak fueled by Damian Lillard, who was held to 21 points on 8-of-23 shooting from the field.

"It was amazing," Malone said. "I think we held them to 20 percent (shooting) in that (second) quarter. We just had a fly around mentality. Even when it (the execution) wasn't right, the mentality to fly around and have a multiple-effort mindset allowed us to get back and make the right play."

In the end, Denver held Portland to just 99 points on 39.6 percent shooting (including 29 percent from beyond the arc) as it won its third-straight game over the Trail Blazers. The Nuggets truly resembled a two-way team in the comfortable victory.

"I feel like we always play good defense against him (Lillard)," Torrey Craig said. "I think we did a good job collectively to not let him get easy shots and get into a rhythm."

Murray impressed in his return

Following a 10-game absence as a result of an ankle injury, The Blue Arrow made his return to the court on Tuesday and finished with 20 points and six assists in just 20 minutes of action. With Murray back in the fold along with Gary Harris, Denver’s offense should have more points of attack to breakdown the defense on a nightly basis.

"I wasn't expecting 20 points and for him to score so efficiently," Malone said. "I just wanted to get him game minutes. He hasn't even had a practice recently. Jamal went out there and hooped and it was great to see him have a game rhythm right off the bat."

Murray looked confident in his decision-making and had the jumper falling, which fueled his standout performance. The 22-year-old guard shot 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-6 from deep. Murray’s return couldn’t have come at a better time for a Nuggets team that will face a difficult schedule in the coming weeks.

"It felt good," Murray said. "That was the second-longest time I've been out, so it was great to be back out there."

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