Damian Lillard and Gary Trent Jr. shoot Blazers past Denver Nuggets

by Kevin Nesgoda

Tonight could have been a big let down. The Nuggets were missing five rotation players and had a tough game against the Spurs the night before. Throughout the year these are the types of games that have been tough for the Blazers and down the stretch it did get tough with Denver taking a lead late in the fourth

Key three pointers from Damian Lillard and Gary Trent Jr. put the Blazers ahead for good and Jusuf Nurkic ended the scoring with one of his many dunks on the night as the Blazers defeated the Denver Nuggets, 125-115.

The Blazers are now only a half game out of the eighth seed.

First Quarter Thoughts

Coming into the game I had some worries that Michael Porter Jr. was going to have a good game against pretty much whomever the Blazers threw out there against him. Porter has been one of the better players in these bubble games over the last week.

He rarely hit rim in the first.

Porter had 10 points on 4-7 shooting. He came off screens well, beat both Carmelo Anthony and Zach Collins to spots on the floor to knock down some jumpers. Porter did exactly what I thought he was going to do against Portland in this game.

Speaking of Collins… I know he’s just coming back from an injury and he’s not as polished of a player as Jusuf Nurkic, but Collins has been dreadful so far in the restart. He hasn’t been able to finish at the rim, his jumper is off, his defense is non-existent. I’d like to see Hassan Whiteside start along with Nurk, but then Portland doesn’t have any good bigs to come off the bench. Collins might need to be traded for something. A second round pick might be more valuable now.

Damian Lillard finally got off to a hot start tonight. He hit his first four threes tonight and had 14 points. The BLazers are going to need a big game from him tonight. Gary Trent Jr. did come in half way through the quarter and locked down Porter. MPJ did not score against him.

I continue to think that Trent is the future at the two for Portland.

Blazers were up 27-26 after one.

Second Quarter Thoughts

The Blazers really have something with Gary Trent Jr. He’s the Blazers best defender the Blazers have on the perimeter and the confidence in his shot is currently through the roof. Early in the season I thought Anfernee Simons was going to be the one pushing for a starting spot in the rotation, but Trent Jr. has started to make a case for him to start in the place of CJ or maybe he moves to the three.

Lillard and Trent Jr. are simply feeling it tonight for the Blazers. They are a combined 9-12 from three and have combined for 35 points in the half. Trent Jr. has not missed in the half and his defense has been spectacular. He was the main defender on MPJ again in the second and held him to two points. He might have had a block had not Porter used the rim to protect against the defender.

Bol Bol might be the smoothest big man to ever play the game. He’s got great range and can put it on the floor to get to the rim. But his defense could use a little help because Jusuf Nurkic murdered him on a dunk toward the end of the quarter.

The Blazers headed into the half up 62-49. This was one of the better halves I’ve seen the Blazers play all year. The Nuggets are missing five rotation players at the moment, but the same could be said for the Blazers throughout the first part of the season.

Third Quarter Thoughts

Jusuf Nurkic has played well since coming back from that gruesome broken leg. He’s rebounding well, passing well, his jump shot looks as good as it has in a while. The one thing that’s off and it’s probably just a comfort thing, but it is touch within a couple feet from the hoop. He’s missed quite a few layups and gimme hook shots. This will probably work itself out in the near future.

At least I hope so.

Lillard looks like he’s having a shoot around session in this game. He’s calm, collected, and determined tonight. If Dame can get into one of those stretches where it doesn’t matter who is guarding him, he’s going to put up 50 points. And there won’t be damn thing anyone can do it about.

In the third quarter any time the Nuggets have made a run Lillard responded with a big basket. Nuggets would cut the lead down to six or seven and Dame would just run it back up to 10-12.

Until the end of the quarter. Nuggets got some solid contributions from Bol Bol, Jerami Grant, and Tori Craig to cut the Blazer lead down to five at the end of the third.

Blazers lead 92-87.

Fourth Quarter Thoughts

The Nuggets continued their hot shooting and excellent ball movement ways. Michael Porter Jr. converted an old school three point play for the Nuggets to get their first lead in the game. Denver made some excellent halftime adjustments to start picking the Blazers apart on the offensive end. There is a lot of movement off the ball that is forcing the Blazers to switch. The Nuggets then either find an open cutter or takes advantage of a mismatch. Something they were not doing at all in the first half.

I have to say it again, Damian Lillard is outstanding. The man has no quit in his body. A team without him might get blown out at this point in the game. We’ve seen this happen in numerous games over the years. Damian Lillard flat out doesn’t allow the Blazers to fall apart. He’s going to fight until the very end, every night.

Gary Trent Jr. has guarded all five positions tonight. He’s got two steals, but the most impressive stat so far on the night is that his man is only 2-8 against him tonight for four points. In the fourth quarter he had two dagger three pointers to keep the Blazers safely out front.

Lillard had 45, Trent with 27, and Nurkic had 22.

Next Up

Blazers have a rare 10:00 AM game on Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers.

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