The Portland Trail Blazers, young and short-handed, still put up a fight on the road in a losing cause against the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
Now they hope for more than a moral victory when the teams go at it again in Denver on Sunday night.
The Nuggets prevailed 120-108 behind a huge game from Nikola Jokic. The two-time MVP had 27 points, a season-high 22 rebounds and 12 assists, almost all of which was needed to hold off a feisty Portland team that recovered from missing 13 of its first 16 shots.
A lot had to do with the play of rookie Scoot Henderson and Anfernee Simons, who combined for more than half of Portland’s points. Henderson had 30 and Simons 29, and each took over a part of the game.
Henderson has quickly adapted to the NBA game despite the usual ups and downs of being a rookie. He played 37 minutes, his second-most of the season.
Denver bounced back from a loss at Oklahoma City on Wednesday night, when Jokic was out with low back pain. The night off did him good; he made 11 of his 16 field goal attempts and grabbed seven offensive rebounds Friday night.
He had help, with Jamal Murray finishing a rebound shy of a triple-double and second-year forward Peyton Watson scoring 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter.
While Jokic and Murray deservedly get a lot of praise, the Nuggets get big contributions from the rest of the starting five. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a lockdown defender, as is Aaron Gordon, and Michael Porter Jr. is a dangerous scorer.
Caldwell-Pope gave the team a scare in the final minutes of Friday’s win when he went to the bench holding his hand after he dislocated the pinkie finger on his shooting hand.
He should be able to play in the rematch Sunday night, but Portland needs to contain Jokic to have a chance of stealing a win.