Well, they were competitive at least. Unfortunately for the Denver Nuggets, they couldn't sustain their hot shooting from the first half and squandered a chance at stealing a tough road victory, falling to the Portland Trailblazers 110-105.
The first quarter started out a bit slowly for the Nuggets. Wesley Matthews was hitting tough shots and Kenneth Faried got into early foul trouble. However, Anthony Randolph stepped in and contributed 9 points. The Nuggets closed the quarter on an 11-4 run and lead by three.
Nate Robinson was the story of the second quarter, as the mercurial backup point guard hit three quick three-pointers en route to 13 points in the period. After another three from Randolph, the Nuggets were 7-11 from deep with 6 consecutive makes from behind the line at one point. They would finish the half 7-12 from three-point range. Ty Lawson also had a strong first half with 13 points and nine assists.
However, the first half ended on a bit of a sour note. Matthews dribbled into JJ Hickson as time expired and threw up a shot, drawing a foul on Hickson. It appeared Matthews instigated all the contact, but nevertheless he hit all three free throws and the Nuggets went into the half up 67-59.
The Nuggets first-half statistics were impressive. They shot 59% from the field and out-rebounded the Blazers 22-17. Their 18 assists were indicative of how well the team was shooting, and the bench had out-scored Portland's 32-6.
When Randy Foye began the third quarter with three three-pointers, it appeared the Nuggets' deft shooting touch had carried over into the second half. This was not the case. After growing their lead all the way up to 15, the Nuggets soon went ice-cold from deep and LaMarcus Aldridge took the game over. He scored 15 points in the third on a variety of tough jump shots, post moves, and free throws. The Nuggets quite simply had no answer for him. The lead was whittled down to three before Wilson Chandler hit a couple of free throws to send the Nuggets into the final quarter with a 91-86 lead.
It didn't take long for Portland to take their first lead since the first quarter at 92-91. From there, it was pretty much back and forth. Chandler did a lot of the heavy lifting for Denver, with nobody else really providing him any help in the period. The Nuggets were down three with 15 seconds to go and opted to go for the quick two. Chandler missed the drive and Aldridge locked up the game with two more free throws. Speaking of Aldridge, he was an absolute monster in this game, scoring 44 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. He scored the last 14 points of the game for the Blazers; the Nuggets had 14 points in the entire fourth quarter.
It wasn't surprising to see the Nuggets turn the ball over 19 times or give up 16 offensive rebounds. It was a bit unnerving to see how Lawson and Robinson disappeared in the second half. Neither player scored a single point after halftime. Randolph didn't either, but his 12 points were a pleasant surprise as is. It was especially disappointing to see Lawson struggle so mightily, as a strong game might have helped his case to become a first-time All-Star.
In a game that nobody really expected much out of them, Denver put themselves in great position to win the game. They just couldn't close the deal. It is difficult to say whether the news regarding Danilo Gallinari really affected the way they played this game, as it seems they've had several games this season where they have a strong first half only to fade in the second. It would appear the playoffs are slowly slipping out of reach for the Nuggets, which is a tough pill to swallow for a team that won 57 games last season. We'll see if they can rebound at home on Saturday against an Indiana Pacers team currently sporting the best record in the league.
Game Observations -
- Wilson Chandler led the Nuggets with 18 points, and only attempted two three-pointers. He made one of them, a bank shot from the right elbow.
- Damian Lillard had a quiet game with 11 points and three assists. His one highlight was a monster dunk near the end of the first half that TNT was only too happy to replay over and over. Despite his off game, I still think Lillard makes into the All-Star Game, along with Aldridge who is a lock.
- With Lillard struggling, Matthews took over as the second-best Blazer on the night, scoring 24 points. The crowd exploded when Nicolas Batum (10 assists) threw him an alley-oop on an inbounds pass from half-court.
- Faried scored the Nuggets' first six points, but only ended up with eight on the night. He played more minutes this game, but it seemed Shaw was hesitant to put him out there with Aldridge having such a strong night.
- Trailblazers owner Paul Allen was interviewed during the game about his other team, the Seattle Seahawks, who of course will be playing the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Apparently he is a big fan of Richard Sherman.
- Hickson had a decent game in his return to Portland, scoring 12 points and snagging 7 rebounds. Still, I don't think Portland fans are really missing him all too much at the moment.
- That foul at the end of the first half on Hickson was a horrible call; even the Inside the NBA crew agreed. The gifted three points were huge in what ended up being a five-point game.
- Denver played hard in this game, and it's clear they're not ready to throw in the towel on the season. But at this point they are who they are, and unless they develop some consistency they'll be on the outside looking in come playoff time.