Portland Trail Blazers come up short against Denver Nuggets

The Portland Trail Blazers dropped a close one in Denver, losing to the Nuggets 116-113.

Well, at least it was a good game. The Portland Trail Blazers came up just short against the league-leading Denver Nuggets, 116-113. A physical contest, the game remained close throughout with both teams trading baskets and runs. Portland drops to 26-18, while Denver improves to 29-13.

While the loss is disappointing, the other way to spin it is this: the Blazers stood strong against a 40-point performance from Nikola Jokic while Jusuf Nurkic experienced foul trouble early and none of Portland’s three best players had a particularly efficient or dominant night.

Damian Lillard finished with 26 points, seven assists, and four rebounds while shooting 8-for-21 from the field and 2-for-10 from deep. Early, he looked to get Nurkic involved, finding him often on the pick-and-roll. And when a three-pointer from way outside went in with more than seven minutes to go in the first, it looked like he could have a big night. Unfortunately, the clock never quite struck Dame.

Lillard missed the last shot of the game that would’ve sent it to overtime, a tough three from way beyond the arc. But, he did have a monster dunk over Paul Millsap, so at least there’s that:

CJ McCollum appeared to revert back to the version of himself we’ve seen throughout most of the season. That’s not to say he was bad, but it is to say that if he had given the Blazers the performance he’s capable of on a night-to-night basis, they could’ve been in a much better position to win.

Although he went a solid .400 from deep (4/10), he was only 7-for-19 from the field, finishing with 18 points, three assists, and three boards. Still, that shouldn’t take away from the huge shot he hit to keep the game in the balance late in the fourth:

But the Blazers will need to get more efficient scoring out of McCollum if they want to have a chance at consistently beating the Western Conference elite.

Nurkic stayed aggressive throughout the night and appeared to be calling for the ball often when matched up on Jokic. After coming back in midway through the second quarter after picking up his second foul in the first, he seemed to be all over the court, leaking in to the inside for opportunities at the rim and making life difficult for the Nuggets defensively. As the game wore on, his shots stopped going in, but his defense remained solid despite the foul trouble. He finished with three steals.

Still, like his counterparts, he also didn’t shoot well. He went for 12 points and eight rebounds on 5-for-14 from the field.

So, how did the Blazers stay in this game?

Al-Farouq Aminu‘s effort defensively and on the glass is a huge part. He finished with nine points (2/7) and 12 boards. He refused to give Denver extra possessions and fought on a ton of boxouts. Denver ranks second in the league in offensive rebounding at 12.5 per game. Tonight, they had only four.

Jake Layman‘s solid shooting also gave the Blazers a lift. He was absolutely nails from the field, going 5-for-6 for 13 points.

The Blazers played a physical brand of basketball that isn’t always in their arsenal, making the Nuggets work hard for every rebound and on most of their offensive possessions. If they can keep up this effort and execution, they should have an easier time defeating the teams they should beat and giving themselves a chance against teams they could beat, even when the team isn’t firing on all cylinders offensively.

Along with Jokic’s 40, he also grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out eight assists. He led the game in plus-minus with +15. Jamal Murray dropped in 24 on .500 shooting (9/18), along with four rebounds and three assists. And Malik Beasley had 13 with three assists, a rebound, and two steals.

Next: New year, new Nurkic

Coming up next, the Trail Blazers take on the Sacramento Kings at 7:00 P.S.T.

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