Blazers beat Nuggets every which way
The Trail Blazers, embarrassed in a 101-97 setback to the lowly Brooklyn Nets their last time out, pressed the re-set button in impressive fashion Monday night at Moda Center.
Portland dominated at both ends and came away with a resounding 99-82 victory over Northwest Division rival Denver.
The Blazers (7-6) shot a season-best .521 from the field and held the Nuggets (8-6) to a season-low .357. It was the poorest shooting game by a Portland opponent all season.
"That was our most complete game of the year," said forward Evan Turner, who came off the bench to sink 7 of 11 shots and contribute 14 points and five assists. "That was an all-around performance."
Portland's Jusuf Nurkic — acquired by the Blazers from Denver at midseason last February — won his post matchup with former teammate Nikola Jokic. Nurkic had 17 points and five rebounds, though also seven turnovers.
Jokic — who came in with eight double-doubles in his last 10 games and averages of 17.2 points and 12.0 rebounds for the season — managed only six points on 2-for-9 shooting and seven boards in 35 minutes.
"He had a bad game," Nurkic said. "He is a great player. He has had a lot of big games this year.
"I know exactly what he wants to do. That's my cheating thing. We stopped him really well and didn't allow him to do so much. As a team, we did a great job."
Jokic gave credit to the Blazers.
"They were just better than us the whole game," he said. "They were more aggressive. On defense, every handoff, every screen, they were fighting through. They are just a good team."
The Nuggets had won seven of their last nine.
The Blazers had lost their last two and were only 4-4 at home this season.
"We knew what was at stake," said guard CJ McCollum, who made 7 of 11 shots from the field, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range, en route to a 17-point game. "We didn't want to lose three games in a row. We didn't want to have another letdown against a very good team that was playing extremely well. We knew we had to raise our level of intensity, especially at the defensive end."
The Nuggets jumped to a 12-5 lead in the first three minutes, sinking five of their first seven shots. After that, they never found a rhythm.
Portland extended a 54-49 halftime lead to 84-66 after three quarters and was in front 93-70 midway through the final period.
"(The Blazers) were physical," Denver coach Mike Malone said. "They guarded us very well and made us feel them all night."
Portland reserves combined for 17-for-26 shooting and outscored their Denver counterparts 42-14.
"The difference in the game was their bench," Malone said.
Noah Vonleh contributed eight points on 4-for-5 shooting and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds in 26 minutes. Ed Davis (four points, seven boards) and Shabazz Napier (eight points, three assists, two steals) also had their moments.
"Our bench was really good," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "The plus/minus (of the top five reserves) was really good. They came in and contributed."
"We came in and made an impact on the game," Davis. "(The Nuggets) have a solid second unit over there. We came in and pushed the beat up and were a big part of this win tonight. There are going to be games where the second unit has to do that."
Stotts gave rookie power forward Caleb Swanigan his first start. The 6-9, 250-pound Swanigan, replacing Vonleh in the lineup, had six points, five rebounds and two blocked shots before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
"Just to change things up," Stotts said. "It wasn't anything about Noah. I wanted to give Caleb a chance to play with the starters and see Noah play off the bench."
Stotts went for several minutes to start the second and fourth quarters with both McCollum and Damian Lillard — who finished with 15 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals but made only 4 of 14 shots from the field — on the bench.
"It's something I toyed around with going into the season," Stotts said. "I wanted to give it a look. It worked out well tonight. We'll see how it goes moving forward."
Davis hopes the performance is a portent of what is ahead.
"If you hold a team under 90, you're going to win," he said. "Even though our record is not what we want it to be, I feel like if we're defending every game, it's going to turn around eventually.
"I hope this is the one that starts a little streak, where we can get hot and put together a seven- or eight-game win streak."
NOTES — The Blazers have won nine straight at Moda Center and 15 of the last 17 meetings overall against the Nuggets. … Portland center/forward Meyers Leonard (ankle) was activated after missing the previous eight games. He did not see any duty. "I still need some practice time," Leonard said. "I was available only in case of emergency." … Denver's starting shooting guard, Gary Harris, missed his second straight game with a sore shoulder. … Portland won the rebound battle 43-35 but had 22 turnovers, one shy of its season high. … The Nuggets won the fast-break points duel 11-4. Before the game, Stotts was asked about the Blazers ranking last in the NBA in fast-break points at 4.6 per game. "You can ask every player," Stotts said. "We practice transition. We emphasize transition. For whatever reason, we're not getting the transition points that we'd like. Like in a lot of things when you're coaching, you just keep emphasizing, and hopefully it comes around." The reasons for the dearth of transition scoring? Stotts mentioned a lack of creating turnovers — Portland also ranks last in that category at 13.4 — and offered a few other checkpoints: "When we get defensive rebounds, how quickly do we outlet it? Do we make the pass ahead as much as we need to? Are the wings there to pass ahead to? It's not one thing." Stotts said he saw a study that showed the Blazers are playing to a faster pace than they have in 20 years. "It's not at the pace of other teams, but we're playing at a faster pace than we did last year," he said. "I don't think you'd say we walk it up."
Malone came up with another esoteric stat. He said in "amount of distance traveled in a game, CJ McCollum is No. 2 in the NBA." He means McCollum does a lot of circling and rubbing off screens. "(The Blazers) run continuous catch-and-shoot motion for McCollum, Lillard and all their 'smalls,'" Malone said. "McCollum and Lillard are both downhill drivers looking to get to the basket." … A reporter told Malone that TNT's Reggie Miller called Jokic "one of the best young bigs in the NBA." Said Malone: "I'd amend that statement by one word. I'd say he's one of the best bigs in the NBA. I would take out the word 'young.' I don't care who he's playing against, he impacts the game in so many different levels. What separates great players from good players is great players make everybody around them better. Nikola does that at a very high level." Not on Monday night at Moda Center. … Malone was asked if he sees a different player in Nurkic than the one who played for him in Denver a year ago. "I see a hell of a player who helped them make the playoffs last year," Malone answered tersely. "I wish him nothing but the best."