Blazers shoot to 3-0, but victory doesn't come easily

Matthews, Felton, Crawford light it up for Portland

On a night in which the Denver Nuggets stole the Trail Blazers blind as Ray Charles and Portland's Wesley Matthews got hot as Mila Kunis in 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall,' ironic it was that Matthews' steal was the game's biggest play.

The Nuggets trailed 104-100 with two minutes remaining, but point guard Ty Lawson - fast as a Vegas-strip nightclub all night long - was streaking toward the Portland basket aiming to cut the gap in half.

In his path was Matthews, who poked the ball away from Lawson and grabbed it for a turnover. Seconds later, Raymond Felton was burying a long 3-pointer to kick off a 7-0 run that put an exclamation point on a 111-102 victory Thursday at the Rose Garden.

The win pushed the Blazers' record to 3-0 and left them as one of a half-dozen unbeaten NBA teams after just five days of action.

Guards Matthews, Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford - all igloo-cold from the field the first two games - combined for 70 points to steer Portland through turbulent waters.

It was a fast-paced, intense and entertaining matchup between Northwest Division rivals on a night when each was very good at some things and very bad at others.

'A confusing game in the sense of what the stat sheet looked like,' observed Portland coach Nate McMillan.

To wit:

• Portland lost the turnover battle 25-7. At one point late in the fourth quarter, the Blazers had 24 giveaways to the Nuggets' four. It was the biggest turnover disparity in franchise history for a game in which the Blazers won. The Nuggets scored 29 points off Portland's 25 turnovers, while the Blazers got 10 points off Denver's seven giveaways.

'You don't win a lot of games with 25 turnovers,' McMillan said. The Nuggets 'pose some matchup problems for you, trying to guard their spread offense and small unit. We were just too loose with the ball, too many guys trying to do too much. (But) we found a way to get a win.'

• Portland lost the steals battle 16-3. Lawson fleeced the Blazers eight times. Denver scored 28 fastbreak points to 11 for Portland.

• Portland won the rebound battle 50-30. Marcus Camby led the way with 12, but all seven other Blazers who played had at least five.

• Portland won the blocked-shot battle 9-2. Camby swatted three.

• Portland won the shooting battle in a landslide. The Blazers fired at a .519 clip from the field - .618 in the second half. They were 1 for 10 from 3-point range in the first half, 7 for 10 in the second half. Denver shot .402 from the field, but that was the good news. The Nuggets were 0 for 11 on treys in the first half and missed 12 in a row before Lawson finally hit one in the third quarter. They finished 4 for 20 from beyond the arc.

'We couldn't find an offensive rhythm - or even an offensive player - and we still stayed in the game,' Denver coach George Karl said.

Portland jumped in front 19-6 as the Nuggets chipped paint off the rim, or worse - Al Harrington had three airballs, including one on a free throw in the first half. The Blazers led 30-17 after one quarter, with the Nuggets taking 29 shots and making only eight to that point.

But Denver reeled in the Blazers, getting to a 53-53 tie at the half.

The Nuggets were on top 59-55 early in the third quarter when Matthews found a zone, bombing in four straight 3-pointers in a three-minute stretch to take Portland on a 14-4 spurt and into a 69-63 lead.

Things stayed close until near game's end. Denver's last lead was at 93-92 with 7:30 to play, but the Nuggets were very much in striking distance when Matthews turned the tables on Lawson for the steal that broke the visitors' back.

Matthews had just turned the ball over at the other end.

'The one thing I was thinking was, 'I've got to get the ball back,' ' he said. 'It was too late in the game for a turnover. I wouldn't be able to sleep if a turnover cost us something.'

Portland shot .429 from the field in its first two games, and the three regular members of the backcourt - starters Felton (.273) and Matthews (.286) and reserve Crawford (.333) - combined to make only 21 of 71 shots.

All three turned things around Thursday night.

Matthews sank 9 of 15 from the field and 5 of 8 from 3-point range, scoring a game-high 25 points to go with five rebounds. Felton was 10 for 16 - 4 for 4 in the fourth quarter - and collected 23 points, six assists and five rebounds. Crawford scored 14 of his 22 points in the final period, sinking 9 of 9 from the foul line.

'Gerald (Wallace) and L.A. (LaMarcus Aldridge), they've been carrying us,' Crawford said with a smile. 'We figured we'd give them a little break tonight.'

Matthews had shot 4 for 14 in each of the first two games and was a combined 3 of 11 on 3-point attempts. Then came the third-quarter fireworks.

'Relief. Just relief,' Matthews said of his reaction. 'Finally.

'I don't think any of my teammates would say they weren't good shots I'd been taking. I was shooting it with confidence, shooting when I was supposed to. They just weren't falling.'

Matthews was with Portland last season, but former free agents Felton and Crawford are new to the team.

'It's us getting familiar with each other,' Matthews said. 'It's all new. None of us have played with each other before. We're starting to figure it out.'

Said Crawford: 'There's an adjustment when you come to a new team. You kind of feel your way at first. You don't want to step on toes. My teammates were telling me to be me. I'll try to get more comfortable with each game.'

Felton played the second half of last season with Denver after a trade from New York, but the Nuggets chose not to re-sign him, opting to go with Lawson. Felton wound up signing with Portland, taking the starting spot of Andre Miller, who went from the Blazers to the Nuggets.

'Raymond was disappointed, because he wanted to start,' Karl said. 'But he was first-class. He stayed with me; he never created any type of animosity. After the season, we visited and it was obvious he wanted his own team. In a very positive way, we kept our relationship professional.

'It's a win-win. Raymond's happy in Portland, Andre's happy in Denver. Both teams are happy with the change. Both teams are as good or better with the trade.'

Felton said he felt no extra incentive going against the Nuggets.

'It was just another game,' he said. 'No bad feelings for those guys. They were good to me when I was there. George was good to play for. He's a great coach. They made a decision, and I did what was best for me. No hard feelings at all.'

'Raymond went north and south and not east and west,' McMillan said. 'He got aggressive, attacked the basket and made some big shots. It was good to see all of our guards start to knock down some of those perimeter shots.'

The 25 turnovers, McMillan said, came about because 'we were playing too fast. Sometimes you get caught up in doing that, especially playing a team that wants to run. All of a sudden, we were playing their game. We want to play fast, but we don't want to be in a hurry. We got into a run-and-gun game, which is not what we want to do.'

Portland wasn't at its best in a lot of ways. Victory makes that easier to accept.

'We showed some guts tonight,' Felton said. 'We showed we can win tough games. That showed a lot of pride and heart. We have to clean up the turnovers, but we fought through it and got a win.'

NOTES - Portland goes on the road for the first time to face the L.A. Clippers Sunday night. 'We were 3-0 to start the season last year, too, and we went through a rough stretch,' Matthews said. 'We'll try to ride this winning wave and cut down on turnovers - we can't do that against the Clippers, because they love turnovers.' ... Wallace and Aldridge each scored 13 points. Aldridge had five rebounds and six assists but never seemed to get going in his 39 minutes. 'I haven't felt like this since college,' Aldridge said. 'Heavy legs. I don't know what it is. I'm resting, I'm cold-tubbing, I'm getting massages. It was tough out there. I was happy to see the guards carry us tonight.' ... Reserve center Kurt Thomas had another solid performance, going 3 for 3 from the field and contributing seven points and six rebounds in 12 minutes. ... Lawson led Denver with 25 points. Reserve guards Miller and Rudy Fernandez - the latter also with the Blazers a year ago - combined to make 6 of 21 shots from the field for the Nuggets. Miller (4 for 13) had 13 points and eight assists in 35 minutes. Fernandez (2 for 8) scored seven points in 22 minutes. ... Portland owner Paul Allen made his first appearance of the season, sitting in his customary seat underneath the basket by the Blazer bench.