There was a better effort tonight than we've seen in the last few games from the Nuggets, but the Blazers simply overwhelmed them with a great shooting night from outside. Although the Nuggets have been better defending the three point shot this year (5th in the NBA, holding their opponents to 34% from 3) than in years past, they were no match for the barrage of 3 pointers made by Nicolas Batum, Damian Lillard and Mo Williams (9-19 from 3 combined). The Nuggets managed to put together a late 15-2 run to cut the lead to just 2 late in the 4th quarter, but too many unforced turnovers doomed their comeback efforts.
Ultimately, tonight's loss boils down to a simple lack of talent: the Nuggets struggled to make do with a short rotation of bench players on any other NBA team, while the Blazers relied upon their established talents in Lillard, Lopez and Batum to carry them to victory. It's certainly a sad day in Nuggets nation to watch a formerly deep team struggle so mightily against that collection of names - and that's a Blazers team without LaMarcus Aldridge - but not an unexpected one. They didn't quit, they didn't stop fighting, but they ultimately came up short. I'm happier to watch a spirited loss than an uglier one, but either way it wasn't pretty.
The Nuggets continue to struggle to produce on offense without Ty Lawson orchestrating the team. They shot a pitiful 4-20 from beyond the arc (natch), as Wilson Chandler and Evan Fournier combined to shoot an putrid 5-25 from the floor. This team cannot rely on Randy Foye to bail them out night after night (did I really just write that sentence?) and hope to win. Chandler in particular was invisible tonight, sluggishly clanking shots off the rim and recording a team low -23. It's been supremely disappointing to watch Chandler wither when the Nuggets have needed him most. Lately, he seems like he's simply going through the motions, perhaps already looking towards the offseason ahead.
Timofey Mozgov played decently well in the starting lineup tonight, though early foul trouble limited his effectiveness against a Blazers team lacking Aldridge, Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard. Aaron Brooks posted 14 points and 6 assists but got abused defensively by Lillard and Mo Wililams. Like Anthony Randolph, Jan Vesely may be one of the hardest playing but least skilled NBA players I've ever watched. He contributed 5 points in his 12 minutes and had a number of good defensive efforts, but his complete lack of talent on the offensive end left my head in my hands as he bricked shot after shot from the court and the stripe. JJ Hickson contributed perhaps the most meaningless 16 point and 25 rebound night I've ever watched as most of his caroms were collected off of gross misses of his own (6-16 from the floor), Kenneth Faried (4-10), and Evan Fournier (2-13). He did, however, record an NBA season-high 15 offensive rebounds, so I guess that's something.
This team did play hard tonight, make no mistake about it, but they succumbed - as many teams would - under the crushing injuries to their starting rotation. The Blazers simply took care of business against a team they should beat and put away the Nuggets when they needed to.
The Nuggets will next play against the Brooklyn Nets in the Pepsi Center on Thursday night before they take a trip to the Rose Garden for their final matchup against the Blazers this season.