Nikola Jokic, Will Barton Star as Nuggets Cruise Past Shorthanded Trail Blazers

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIJanuary 14, 2022

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, right, looks to pass the ball as Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

The Denver Nuggets sailed to a 140-108 home win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday at Ball Arena.

Denver dropped 41 first-quarter points en route to a 72-55 halftime lead. The Nuggets also shot 63.4 percent from the field and hit 21 of 42 three-pointers. Will Barton's 21 points led the team, and reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic added 20. Facundo Campazzo added an 18-point, 12-assist double-double off the bench.

The Blazers were significantly shorthanded.

In addition to ongoing absences from guards Damian Lillard (abdominal tendinopathy) and CJ McCollum (collapsed lung), the Blazers were without Norman Powell (health and safety protocols), Anfernee Simons (personal reasons), Larry Nance Jr. (right knee inflammation) and Cody Zeller (right knee: patellar fracture).

As a result, Portland struggled. All five Blazer starters did score at least 10 points, led by Ben McLemore's 18.

The 21-19 Nuggets have won three of their last four games. The 16-25 Blazers' two-game win streak snapped.


Notable Performances

Blazers G Ben McLemore: 18 points

Blazers G Dennis Smith Jr.: 17 points, 8 assists

Blazers C Jusuf Nurkic: 10 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists

Nuggets F Will Barton: 21 points

Nuggets C Nikola Jokic: 20 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists

Nuggets G Facundo Campazzo: 18 points, 12 assists, 4 steals


Denver Puts on Offensive Clinic

Denver has an opportunity to get into a groove midway through this season with the team beginning a six-game homestand Thursday.

The Nuggets certainly got on the right track to start as they decimated the Blazers' defense.

The paint was routinely wide open, and Jokic took advantage:

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

Don't jump with Joker 😳 <a href="https://t.co/6Eg6VSBt8T">pic.twitter.com/6Eg6VSBt8T</a>

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

Imagine having to guard this <a href="https://twitter.com/BallCorpHQ?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BallCorpHQ</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MileHighBasketball?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MileHighBasketball</a> <a href="https://t.co/tCw6Lqz3Yz">pic.twitter.com/tCw6Lqz3Yz</a>

Jokic's incredible passing talents were on full display once again too, as he found a cutting Aaron Gordon for a bucket:


Jokic finds Gordon for the easy slam 👀 <a href="https://t.co/gRt3zhvnKv">pic.twitter.com/gRt3zhvnKv</a>

Even when there was some resistance, it didn't appear to matter much. Jeff Green notably turned back the clock multiple times on this night as the 35-year-old dunked all over the Blazers. He also had 15 first-half points.

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

What do you have against that rim, <a href="https://twitter.com/unclejeffgreen?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@unclejeffgreen</a>?? <a href="https://t.co/EdIlF7wdlB">pic.twitter.com/EdIlF7wdlB</a>

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

Can't stop (dunking), won't stop (dunking) <a href="https://t.co/rTjhWKuvBm">pic.twitter.com/rTjhWKuvBm</a>


Will The Thrill ➡ Uncle Jeff<br><br>Watch the <a href="https://twitter.com/nuggets?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nuggets</a> on TNT <a href="https://t.co/iXot85oRA6">pic.twitter.com/iXot85oRA6</a>


😤 Uncle Jeff Green!<br><br>He leads the <a href="https://twitter.com/nuggets?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nuggets</a> with 15 PTS at the half on TNT! <a href="https://t.co/usjkqJKgDr">pic.twitter.com/usjkqJKgDr</a>

The bench also had little issue with the Blazers' second unit. Campazzo notably got away with a basketball nutmeg against Trendon Watford en route to the Denver bench outscoring Portland's reserves 66-39:

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

Don't do it to 'em like that Facu 😱 <a href="https://t.co/hMkT6w2Bhf">pic.twitter.com/hMkT6w2Bhf</a>

Campazzo got away with a pass between Blazer forward Robert Covington's legs too as he found Jokic for two in the third quarter:

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

Facu nutmeg ➡️ Joker Jam <a href="https://t.co/utjJ6686gp">pic.twitter.com/utjJ6686gp</a>

Denver ultimately outscored Portland by at least four points in each quarter and even finished strong by posting 39 points to the Blazers' 28 in the final frame.

The Nuggets were heavy favorites going into this one given Portland's situation, but credit to Denver for putting its foot on the gas early and leaving no doubt who would win this game late.


Shorthanded Blazers Can't Keep Pace on Road

There isn't much to take away from Portland's performance Thursday. They were missing their two All-Stars, their top backup guard, their No. 1 wing player and key members of the frontcourt rotation. 

To put the absences in perspective, only three of the nine players who suited up for the Blazers in their 124-121 opening-night loss to the Sacramento Kings took part in this game (Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington, Nassir Little).

Still, the defensive effort left much to be desired, with the Nuggets getting wide-open looks all night. The game felt over after Denver scored 41 first-quarter points despite impressive offensive performances from McLemore (4-of-9 from three-point range) and Smith (7-of-12 from the field).  

It called into question the team's struggles on the road. Portland is 14-11 at home but just 2-14 away from the Moda Center.

The Blazers are still in position to fight for a play-in tournament spot with the bottom six teams in the Western Conference all having 17 or fewer wins, thereby making the race for 10th place wide open. But Portland has to make up nine road games to even out its ledger, and continued struggles away from home will only dig a deeper hole.

The other problem is those days of reckoning are coming up, with Portland playing its next five games on the road against Eastern Conference opponents. Four of those teams are .500 or better, so Portland could be looking at an extended skid through January.

If the Blazers play like they did Thursday, that'll certainly happen, but this team is obviously capable of far better performances. The storyline of this season has also not been written yet with 40 games left to be played, so hope still springs for Portland despite a dreadful night in Denver.


What's Next?

Both teams play Saturday.

Portland will head east to face the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena at 7 p.m. ET. The Los Angeles Lakers will visit Denver at 9 p.m.