The Portland Trail Blazers have put their slow start behind them.
Portland extended its winning streak to four with a 119-100 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Tuesday's Western Conference showdown at Moda Center. CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard led the way and helped the Trail Blazers improve to 10-8 on the season.
Jeff Green spearheaded the losing effort for the short-handed Nuggets, who fell to 9-9 and have now lost five straight games after a quick start to the campaign.
Notable Player Stats
- CJ McCollum, G, POR: 32 PTS, 3 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 13-of-19 FG, 5-of-9 3PT
- Damian Lillard, G, POR: 25 PTS, 5 AST, 3 REB, 9-of-13 FG, 5-of-8 3 PT
- Norman Powell, F, POR: 15 PTS, 3 AST, 3 STL, 2 REB
- Jeff Green, F, DEN: 24 PTS, 4 REB, 3 AST, 3 BLK
- Monte Morris, G, DEN: 16 PTS, 2 REB, 2 AST
CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard Lead Way in Straightforward Win
It was fair to wonder about Portland's overall ceiling and Lillard's future after two straight first-round exits, and a 5-7 start to the season only exacerbated those concerns. However, things have turned around of late thanks to wins in four of the previous five games, and Tuesday's contest was one it needed to maintain that momentum given the players missing for Denver.
The Trail Blazers wasted little time seizing the opportunity in the mismatch.
Lillard and McCollum poured in a combined 37 points in the first half alone behind their red-hot outside shooting. The short-handed Nuggets had no answer, and the guards used their quickness to get into the lane whenever defenders pressed up on those three-point looks.
Throw in Norman Powell doing a little bit of everything as a third scorer and Anfernee Simons providing a spark off the bench with his perimeter shooting, and Portland had a 14-point lead at halftime and appeared to be in full control.
The home team made a point of pushing the pace in transition at times, especially since Denver figured to have tired legs with so many players unavailable. That effort, along with a teardrop in the lane from McCollum to end the third quarter, helped the Trail Blazers maintain their double-digit lead heading to the fourth.
McCollum and Lillard continued to keep Denver at bay with their timely scoring whenever Portland needed a bucket, and the game was never truly in doubt in the final quarter.
While the Trail Blazers could have gone through the motions and still won against this version of the Nuggets, that they played well and continued to stack wins together bodes well for the future as they look to earn favorable playoff positioning in the West.
Short-Handed Nuggets Can't Keep Pace on Road
The Nuggets team that took the floor Tuesday was not the one many envisioned as a true contender this season.
Michael Porter Jr. is out with a long-term back injury, Jamal Murray still has not returned from his ACL injury and Nikola Jokic was sidelined with a wrist injury. It was Jokic's third straight missed game, and things got even worse in the first quarter when P.J. Dozier was carried off the court after going down with an apparent knee injury.
That made everything even more of an uphill battle for the visitors, although Green did what he could to keep them within striking distance with 15 first-half points. He found his touch from deep and threw down an impressive dunk as Denver's new go-to option.
It wasn't a one-man effort, as Monte Morris and Aaron Gordon provided secondary scoring while Will Barton and Facundo Campazzo played the role of facilitators.
The Nuggets continued to fight into the second half and were within single digits multiple times, but they simply didn't have the firepower to keep pace with the likes of Lillard and McCollum on the other end.
Still, there was just too small of a margin for error to actually win the game. All it took was a few empty possessions for Portland to push the advantage back to a comfortable distance, and Denver finished with 17 turnovers with stretches of sloppy play.
The Nuggets have bigger concerns than just this one loss or even the current losing streak, but a deep playoff run will be off the table if they don't get healthier at some point.
The Trail Blazers are at the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, while the Nuggets host the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.