Will Barton had 21 points before leaving late in the third quarter with a strained neck, Nikola Jokic added 20 and the Denver Nuggets beat the depleted Portland Trail Blazers 140-108 on Thursday night.
The Nuggets built their lead to 26 points in the third quarter — and this time didn’t let it slip away.
Two nights ago, Denver blew a 25-point lead in Los Angeles against the Clippers. The loss of big leads has become an alarming trend for the Nuggets.
But not this time. Although, it did take the Nuggets nearly three minutes into the third quarter before scoring their first basket — a dunk by Jeff Green, who finished with 19 points. That got them rolling again.
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“I think everybody who’s a Nuggets fan was probably wondering when we got up big when the collapse was going to happen,” coach Michael Malone said. “Give our guys credit.”
Facundo Campazzo had 18 points and 12 assists for Demver. Jokic, who didn’t play in the fourth quarter, also had eight rebounds and seven assists. It was a rare game in which he didn’t have a double-double.
There was a scary moment late in the third quarter, when Barton fell into the knee of Portland center Jusuf Nurkic on a drive. Barton stayed down for several moments as teammates surrounded him. Barton walked to the locker room and later returned to the bench.
“I’m just glad he’s cool,” Green said.
Ben McLemore had 18 points as all five Portland starters scored in double digits to begin a six-game trip. The Blazers were without their top four scorers in Damian Lillard (abdominal tendinopathy), CJ McCollum (right lung pneumothorax), Norman Powell (health & safety protocols) and Anfernee Simons (personal reasons).
“We did a poor job of just keeping the ball in front of us,” Blazers coach and Denver native Chauncey Billups explained. “They’re good at executing downhill and creating 3s. They’re good at that. The game got away from us from that standpoint.”
With Denver’s reserves playing most of the fourth quarter, the Nuggets built their lead to 37 points. The Nuggets outscored the Blazers 68-53 in the second half. It marked the first time they’ve won a second half since a game at New York on Dec. 4.
“Our defense in the second half was great,” Green said.
Blazers: McCollum is expected to join the team at some point on the trip. … F Larry Nance Jr. (right knee) was out. … G Dennis Smith Jr. scored 17.
Nuggets: Before the game, G Jamal Murray (left knee) and F Michael Porter Jr. (back surgery) shot baskets on opposite ends of the floor. … Denver made 21 3-pointers and had 35 assists.
Lillard underwent surgery Thursday morning to repair a core injury that has been causing him abdominal pain. Lillard will be evaluated again in six weeks.
“He told me several times, he doesn’t even know what it feels like playing healthy — it’s been so long,” Billups said. “I’m happy he’s going to be able to get healthy, come back with his mind fresh, his body fresh.”
The Blazers hired Andrae Patterson as an assistant general manager. Billups couldn’t help but reflect on a first-round NCAA Tournament game in 1997, when Billups’ Colorado Buffaloes beat Patterson’s Indiana Hoosiers 80-62.
“That was a great game,” Billups cracked.
A trade between Detroit and the Nuggets was rescinded after big man Bol Bol didn’t receive medical clearance with the Pistons. The Nuggets finalized the deal Monday to send Bol to Detroit in exchange for guard Rodney McGruder along with a 2022 second-round pick via Brooklyn.
“Welcome him back,” Malone said of what happens next. “Bol was leaving here on good terms. We all had good conversations with him. Stranger things have happened in the NBA.”
Trail Blazers: At the Washington Wizards on Saturday.
Nuggets: Host LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday.