Nikola Jokic Continues Torrid Streak as Nuggets Beat Damian Lillard, Blazers

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorFebruary 24, 2021

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, front, loses control of the ball as Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Nikola Jokic scored 41 points and Jamal Murray added 19 of his own in the fourth quarter as the Denver Nuggets defeated the visiting Portland Trail Blazers 111-106 on Tuesday at Ball Arena.

The Nuggets and Blazers were tied at halftime and after the third quarter, but Murray's hot fourth-quarter shooting was the difference late. He made six of 10 field goals (including a trio of three-pointers) and four free throws down the stretch to push Denver to victory. Murray had 24 points overall.

Jokic's 41 points came on 17-of-32 shooting, and he has now scored 35 or more points in eight games this season.

He and Murray were complemented by Michael Porter Jr.'s 12-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Five Blazers scored in double digits, led by Damian Lillard's 25 and 24 more from Carmelo Anthony, who had 16 in the second quarter alone. Enes Kanter contributed a 16-point, 14-rebound double-double.

The Nuggets improved to 17-14. The 18-13 Blazers have lost three straight.

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Notable Performances

Trail Blazers PG Damian Lillard: 25 points, 13 assists, 7 rebounds

Trail Blazers F Carmelo Anthony: 24 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block

Trail Blazers C Enes Kanter: 16 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists

Nuggets C Nikola Jokic: 41 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists

Nuggets PG Jamal Murray: 24 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds

Nuggets F Michael Porter Jr.: 12 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist

    

Jokic Dominates Again

Jokic has played in 31 games this season. Ten have resulted in 30 or more points, and seven others have ended with him posting a triple-double. He's also had two or more steals in 15 games and finished plus-10 or better on the court in 12 contests.

One can pick out anything from Jokic's game log and marvel at how sensational he's been this season. No one is playing better than him right now. His 6.6 win shares are No. 1 in the NBA by a wide margin: No one else had five or more entering Tuesday, per Basketball Reference. He and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid are the only two players to have a player efficiency rating north of 30 thus far as well.

Jokic's versatility shines every night, win or loss. He does whatever is needed of him, whether it's facilitating the offense or having more of an impact on the boards. But sometimes, he's called upon to provide a huge scoring load, and that was the case Tuesday, especially considering that the banged-up Nuggets are still missing numerous rotation players such as Gary Harris and Paul Millsap.

Sometimes, he's simply indefensible. It's not exactly easy to defend a 7-footer who can make a corner three, but that's the task opposing defenders are faced with:

His ability to space the floor can create wide-open opportunities for his teammates, like this three from Murray after a quick fake:

Sometimes he'll just take care of business himself given his ball-handling skills, notably helping put Portland away with this drive and dunk:

Ultimately, it was another great night in a season full of them for Jokic.

     

Portland Down but Definitely Not Out After Latest Loss

Credit to the Trail Blazers for starting the season 18-10 despite injuries sidelining CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic for much of the year.

Lillard is averaging nearly 30 points per game, Kanter has been a double-double machine, Anthony is still providing scoring punch off the bench and younger players like Gary Trent Jr. have provided more offensive help, among other accomplishments from the rest of the team.

However, the Blazers' season has hit a snag, losing three straight after falling to Denver. It's been an ugly one, starting with a home loss to the 11-18 Washington Wizards before a 32-point defeat against a hot-shooting Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns.

Portland had it going offensively at times against Denver, but Jokic and Murray were simply too strong, and the Blazers could not respond in the fourth.

Obviously, a three-game losing streak with the first half of the season nearing its end isn't ideal. The Blazers would like to go into the All-Star break with some momentum, and a road game against a 22-win (albeit slumping) Los Angeles Lakers team may not help break the losing.

However, it's important to note the bigger picture. Portland is just percentage points behind the San Antonio Spurs for fifth in the Western Conference and a full 4.5 games ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans, who occupy the first spot just outside the play-in tournament picture.

Healthy returns of McCollum and Nurkic down the line can only help this team in the second half as it looks to secure an eighth straight playoff berth.

For now, the Blazers may have to weather the storm, but they've proven capable of finding success sans McCollum and Nurkic in spurts and can find their way once again until they welcome back their star players before the playoff run.

           

What's Next?

Denver will host the Washington Wizards on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET. The Blazers will visit the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Friday at 10 p.m.