In round two of the Denver Nuggets vs the Portland Trail Blazers the results were ultimately similar. Portland had a strong start to the game and built a double digit lead but the Nuggets fought back behind a big third quarter and put Portland away in the fourth. Nikola Jokic had another standard Jokic night while Jamal Murray was also key to Denver’s victory. On Portland’s side they got strong performances from DeAndre Ayton and Anfernee Simons. It wasn’t enough to go a full forty-eight minutes though with Denver ratcheting up their energy and defense in the second half. Nuggets take care of business and get a 112-103 win.

Simons picked up where he left off in the second half of Friday’s game by burying a couple of quick threes and Ayton followed that with three straight buckets to give Portland an early lead. The Nuggets starters rallied after that and responded with an 8-2 run to bring them back within three. Portland kept in front with Simons leading the way but Aaron Gordon got a couple dunks and Denver’s starters continued to be effective to keep the lead from growing. Joker was getting some calls as the Blazers struggled to contain him in the lane. They were having great success on the other end hitting wide open threes however and that started to put some separation between them and the Nuggets. Michael Malone called timeout and put the bench in. Peyton Watson made an immediate energy play blocking Ayton on an alley-oop attempt. The bench group didn’t close the gap but they held serve to close out the first quarter. After one the Nuggets trailed 37-25.

Murray carried the load early in the second quarter but the Blazers continued to shoot at a red hot rate. Denver’s bench continued to hold serve with Portland with Murray finding DeAndre Jordan time and again like it was lob city circa 2014. That sparked a Denver run and they got it back within five by the time Jokic checked back in. Portland cooled off a bit but Denver wasn’t able to take advantage with the quarter moving past the halfway mark. Jokic made Ayton look absolutely silly with a pump fake to get an and-one and keep the lead to five with Portland continuing to drain threes. The teams went back and forth down the stretch with Denver slowly but surely closing the gap. Ayton continued his good play for Portland, Jokic continued to score for Denver and the game stayed tight going into half. After two quarters the Nuggets were down 63-60.

Jokic and Murray closed the gap quickly in the third quarter with Jokic tying the game on a breakaway dunk. Ayton continued to be a problem though. He was getting easy shots in the lane and was piling up the points. Portland got back in front behind him but Denver’s starters pushed right back. Denver kept creeping towards getting the lead but continued to remain just out of reach. Portland still led by a point at the half way mark and Ayton continued to find points inside. With just under five minutes to go Gordon got hit in the face and no foul was called, save for the technical AG got called for when he voiced his displeasure with the officiating. That seemed to take the wind out of Denver’s sails and some sluggish and sloppy play on their end let Portland push their lead up once again. However, Watson once again gave Denver some energy off the bench to spark a response from Denver. They got the lead back down to five but then stalled there with the quarter coming to a close. Murray sparked a run in the final minute. His second assist in a row to Jokic with five seconds left finally gave Denver the lead, 86-84.

The Nuggets had the energy to open the final quarter and grew their lead early. Murray nailed a three to push it to eight and make Chauncey Billups take a timeout. Denver’s bench unit kept pushing while the Blazers suddenly were cold. They were up twelve when Malone went with a lineup that featured neither Jokic nor Murray nor Michael Porter Jr. Portland started to close the gap a bit before Watson had a vicious putback slam to put the lead back to double digits. Jokic checked back in with Denver up eleven and just over six minutes to go. Ayton started to find his rhythm again and gave Portland some life but with the starters coming back in Denver had an answer. A Kentavious Caldwell-Pope pushed Denver’s lead up to fifteen but he came up holding his hamstring and went back to the locker room with just over two minutes left. Portland closed the gap to make it look a bit more respectable but ultimately ran out of time. Denver gets the victory 112-103.

Best matchup: Nikola Jokic vs DeAndre Ayton

Feb 4, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) looks to pass the ball as Portland Trail Blazers center Deandre Ayton (2) guards in the second quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It was a big battle of the bigs tonight. Give credit to Ayton for being the one to carry Portland’s offense with both Jerami Grant and Malcolm Brogdon sitting out. He tallied twenty-seven points to go with nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks. He did damage repeatedly from in the paint showing off his soft touch when close to the basket. Jokic meanwhile had a yeoman’s effort (for him at least) which still ended up with him piling up the stats. Interestingly, Joker was actually a minus five on the night with Denver going on their biggest run while he was on the bench to open the fourth quarter. Still, he had plenty of big plays down the stretch to keep Portland from any sort of last minute comeback and was a constant force throughout the game.

It’s fine to do that against the Blazers but probably not against a competitive team

The Nuggets approach to tonight’s game was fairly lackadaisical, at least to start. They let Portland drop thirty-seven points on them in the first quarter while showing extreme apathy to defend anything resembling a three point shooter. Eventually Denver woke up and by the end of the game they were holding Portland to nineteen points in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t pretty but give credit to the Nuggets for at least figuring out when to get it going to get a victory. It’s the dog days of the season right now so you take a W anyway you can get it. Still, coming out flat and waiting to put it on late against bad teams is playing with fire and a flat out recipe for disaster against good teams. Like all teams in early February, Denver looks ready for a much needed rest at the upcoming All-Star break, even more so if KCP’s apparent hamstring injury proves to be significant.

Jokic can’t drop the double triple double

Our Thing To Bet misses tonight with Jokic falling short of a triple double by two rebounds and three assists. Like the rest of the team, Joker’s energy was a bit lacking at the start of the game and he wasn’t nearly as effective on the glass as he was on Friday. With the Nuggets overall lack of energy as well there was less ball movement which led to fewer assist opportunities to cutters. Still a very good game overall from the MVP favorite but sadly not one that ended up putting money in our wallet.