Nikola Jokic, Nuggets Use Balanced Effort to Beat Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2019

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 12: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets posts up on Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Portland Trail Blazers on December 12, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
Bart Young/Getty Images

A return home helped the Denver Nuggets end their recent slide with a 114-99 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Nikola Jokic totaled 20 points and 11 rebounds Thursday at the Pepsi Center, turning things around for Denver after three straight losses and five defeats in the last six games. The All-Star was one of six players in double figures for the Nuggets, who also made 18 threes in the win.

Despite the recent struggles, the 15-8 squad improved to 9-3 at home.

The Trail Blazers (10-16) continued their problems away from home with their sixth road loss in seven games as Damian Lillard was held to 13 points. Carmelo Anthony and Hassan Whiteside combined for 53, but it wasn't enough to escape with a victory.


Notable Stats

  • Damian Lillard, G, Blazers: 13 points, 11 assists, 5-of-16 shooting
  • Carmelo Anthony, F, Blazers: 20 points, nine rebounds, two blocks
  • Hassan Whiteside, C, Blazers: 33 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks
  • Nikola Jokic, C, Nuggets: 20 points, 11 rebounds, six assists
  • Jamal Murray, G, Nuggets: 12 points, six rebounds
  • Jerami Grant, G, Nuggets: 20 points, five rebounds


Three-Point Barrage Helps Nuggets Pull Out Win

Denver's outside shooting hasn't been trustworthy this season. The Nuggets entered the day ranked 21st in the league in three-point shooting percentage (35.0 percent) and 24th in made threes per game (10.4)

Their shooting was all over the place during the recent four-game road trip—as high as 53.8 percent and as low as 16.7 percent.

This makes it difficult to get too excited about any positive game, but the offense looked good Thursday night while finishing 18-of-36 from deep. Perhaps most importantly, almost everyone got involved with eight different players making at least one three:

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

🏹THE 🏹 🏹 BLUE 🏹 🏹 ARROW 🏹 https://t.co/T58f3YNaor

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

So, so smooth 😎 #MileHighBasketball https://t.co/FBqrmFanU2

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

Currently on fire from three. 🔥O🔥N🔥F🔥I🔥R🔥E🔥 https://t.co/ZE5HjQNgmk

Jerami Grant was the biggest star of the day while shooting 5-of-6 from beyond the arc on his way to matching a season high with 20 points. 

Mike Singer @msinger

Jerami Grant is scorching from outside right now. He's buried 11-of-15 from 3-point range over his past three games.

The Nuggets overall did a great job of moving the ball to get open looks before knocking them down (25 assists on 42 made baskets). It's a proven formula for success, and it could lead to this being a dangerous offense.

Though you never want to be overreliant on the three, this type of shooting will win a lot of games.


Blazers Get Offensive Balance from Frontcourt

Portland's story for years has been the team will only go as far as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum take them. However, the talented guards were somewhat overshadowed by the frontcourt in this one.

Hassan Whiteside has been criticized often during his career, including earlier this season for his inconsistent play. However, he was aggressive in this one for his sixth straight game reaching double figures.

The center shocked everyone with an early three-pointer, on his first attempt of the year, and continued with strong all-around play:

Bleacher Report NBA @BR_NBA

Hassan Whiteside...for three?? https://t.co/292cJHJ9jX

Portland Trail Blazers @trailblazers

point center https://t.co/Wlyspa7b3E

Mike Singer @msinger

Hassan Whiteside is cooking. He's already up to 11 points and is all kinds of disruptive in the paint. Encouraging to see Jokic bang with him on the offensive end.

Dwight Jaynes @dwightjaynes

Whiteside is borderline sensational so far but not getting enough help

It led to a career-high 33 points, and he also made a difference on the defensive end.

Carmelo Anthony was also at his best while getting buckets in a variety of ways:

Portland Trail Blazers @trailblazers

Agent 00-7 https://t.co/4Y1EyAHKbd


The jab step and one dribble pull-up from Melo. #RipCity 📺: @NBAonTNT https://t.co/P4GIsJz2TY

Oliver Maroney @OMaroneyBIG3

They said Melo was done I thought....🤔🤔🤔

Much is made of the veteran's efficiency, but it wasn't a problem against the Nuggets while he shot 8-of-16.

On a day when Lillard struggled with his shot and McCollum disappeared for long stretches, Whiteside and Anthony shockingly represented most of the offense.

This isn't ideal for Portland as an offensive strategy, but these players can help take pressure off the superstar backcourt without needing great performances every night to win. When Lillard does play to his ability, the Blazers will be even more difficult to stop.


What's Next?

The Nuggets will continue their five-game homestand Saturday with a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Blazers will go on the road Monday to take on the Phoenix Suns.