Monday, December 5, 2022

Preview: Denver Nuggets (9-8) at Portland Trail Blazers (9-8)

The Portland Trail Blazers look to avenge a severe whipping when they host the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night.

The Nuggets recorded a convincing 124-95 home win over the Trail Blazers on Nov. 14 when Portland star Damian Lillard sat out with an abdominal injury.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had 28 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in that contest but the Denver star is ailing entering the rematch. Jokic has missed the past two games with a wrist injury, and he was listed as questionable for the Tuesday game.

Denver certainly missed the big man while being routed 126-97 by the Phoenix Suns on Sunday. The setback also was the club’s fourth in a row.

“It was like a blur out there,” Nuggets forward JaMychal Green said of the assault. “I felt like everything we threw at them didn’t work.”

That surely was apparent in the first quarter, when Phoenix scored 48 points to take a 20-point advantage.

“When you give up 48 in the first quarter and you are down by 20, (trail by) as many as 30 at one point, you spend so much energy trying to get back in the game,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “It was great to see our guys continue to fight, compete and not just to roll over, but you can’t allow a team to come out and play like that in the first quarter.”

The contest began a stretch in which the Nuggets play nine of 10 games on the road. Their lone home game during the three-week span is Friday against the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Veteran Jeff Green scored a season-high 19 points against Phoenix. He averaged 5.3 over the previous four games.

Portland certainly relishes facing the Nuggets on their own court, as the club is 8-1 at Moda Center this season.

The Trail Blazers stand 3-0 on a four-game homestand after notching a 118-111 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.

Lillard began the season in a deep shooting slump but looked like a six-time All-Star by scoring a season-best 39 points against the 76ers.

Lillard has suddenly tallied at least 20 points in seven consecutive games. He is averaging 26.4 points during the span.

Lillard’s shooting accuracy is up to 39 percent. That still rates as subpar for a player who shot 45.1 percent last season and 46.3 two seasons ago.

“It was a slow start, just struggling shooting the ball,” Lillard said. “It shows your true character whether you can deal with struggles and deal with hard times and criticism and everybody kicking you when you’re down. Just continuing to fight that fight and find a way.

“I think the best of the best are capable of that. That’s just been my mentality to just keep on moving forward. Keep doing the work. Keep my mind clear.”

First-year Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups was pleased to see his best player in top form.

“I just thought he attacked all night, and even when they showed him two people, he made the right pass,” Lillard said. “It was good for him to have a night like this.”

CJ McCollum added 18 points against Philadelphia. He scored a team-best 21 in the recent loss to Denver.

The Nuggets have won 12 of the past 15 regular-season meetings and also eliminated Portland in six games in a first-round playoff series last season.

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