The back-to-back out of the All Star Break couldn’t really have gone much better for the Denver Nuggets, as they followed up a demolition of the Washington Wizards last night with a blow out of the Portland Trail Blazers tonight, 127-112. Michael Porter Jr. had 22 first-half points on his way to 34 for the game to go with 12 rebounds and energy on every possession. Nikola Jokic had another monster triple-double with 29 points, 15 rebounds and 14 assists, and Collin Gillespie made the most of his time since Jamal Murray was inactive for the game – Collin had 18 points, 4 assists and was a +23 on the night. Portland had three players score 20+ in Jerami Grant, Anfernee Simons and Deandre Ayton, but the Trail Blazers could never make a run that threatened Denver after the first quarter and the Nuggets did what good teams do: racked up a road win against a bad team.

Game Recap

Jerami Grant opened the scoring for Portland with a deep three that Michael Porter Jr. answered on the other end. Nikola Jokic and Aaron Gordon both had turnovers, with Grant getting free throws and both Kris Murray and Deandre Ayton taking advantage of Denver’s misses and turnovers to take an early 8-3 lead. Porter missed one three after a timeout but got his own rebound and made the next. Jokic tossed a pass to AG for a layup and then on the next possession did the same to Porter to get Denver the lead back as the Nuggets located their intensity with a 24 second violation on Portland thanks to KCP’s hounding defense. AG had a nice give-and-go with Jokic for a bucket that Ayton answered, and then this oop from Joic to Gordon made it 13-10 Denver.

MPJ buried another three, then Jokic hit one of his own. Jabari Walker got a paint bucket for Portland but MPJ had a great turnaround jumper to answer. Ayton made a pullup of his own, and Christian Braun’s blown layup on one end led to a Dalano Banton layup on the other end. Jokic put back a Peyton Watson missed three, but a turnover from Braun led to a Grant finish for the Trailblazers. Jokic had a great assist to Watson near the end of the quarter though and gave Denver a 25-20 lead after one.

Denver’s bench players started the second quarter aggressively, with Zeke Nnaji getting a strong putback and Christian Braun getting to the line. Jerami Grant got another finish for Portland and their zone defense required Reggie Jackson to solve it. Banton finished a traditional 3-point play and Duop Reath’s paint finish cut Denver’s lead to 30-27. Denver had back-to-back turnovers, continuing their sloppy play from the first, but AG came back in and hit a baseline jumper to steady the squad. Braun passed to Nnaji for a dunk in transition, KCP hit a three, and MPJ tipped in his own miss for a 39-31 Nugggets lead. After several Denver blocks on one end, AG threw a cross-court pass to MPJ for another three and then Jokic hit a lovely floater. Porter his a great contested long 2 but the Trail Blazers hung around with free throws and second chance opportunities, playing hard. Collin Gillespie made a 3 in a bigger role, but he and KCP then blew a fastbreak together. MPJ buried a tough covered three and then pointed to Murray on the bench as well. AG rocked a tremendous dunk over a falling Grant, and Gillespie’s second 3-pointer was confident and ready. KCP swished a jumper, Jokic bowled over Grant for a bucket, and Denver went into the half up 63-48.

Jokic finished with his left hand under the bucket to begin the second half, which Ayton answered with a pair of paint buckets. Jokic missed at the rim (a shocker!) but finished his next one and KCP had a great play to force a turnover. Porter missed a three, but Jokic’s steal led to KCP free throws and Denver stayed up by 17. Porter buried another long jumper off a Gordon assist, but Anfernee Simons made a pir of threes to stop the run. MPJ assisted a Reggie Jackson 3, but Simons was on fire for another three. A KCP turnover led to a Portland layup to cut the lead to 11 at 74-63, and Porter’s dunk was answer by Ayton’s bucket and forced a timeout.

Jokic finished over Ayton out of the break, Banton hit a corner three for Portland that Gillespie answered from deep, and MPJ was fouled on a three to get Denver’s lead back to 16 at 84-68. Jokic had a traditional three-point play and then assisted layups from both Braun and Watson. Gillespie got a steal after a Jokic miss that Nikola put back in as the quarter closed and Denver lead 95-77 with one to go.

Reggie Jackson airballed a jumper at the end of the shot clock but finished at the rim the next time down. Braun’s poor turnover and Reggie’s bad three led to a Portland bucket and a Malone timeout early. Watson made a three for Denver but Ayton replied with a paint bucket before Nnaji finished a great putback and MPJ’s rebounding led to him getting a three and making the lead 105-83. Porter made a Nnaji-assisted layup but Peyton Watson got hit with a flagrant for his closeout on Jerami Grant’s made three. Ayton made a bucket over the returning Jokic, but Gillespie had a couple great finishes off Jokic passes, then bounced in a 3, and Denver stayed in control the whole way as they emptied the bench late. A great effort in back-to-back games wrapped up with Denver defeating Portland

Final thoughts:

MPJ has looked great the last couple games. He hasn’t been perfect around the rim, but on both ends he’s putting in the work and really using his size to snag rebounds and finish scoring opportunies. He had 22 points and 7 rebounds in just the first half and was looking to get involved in every play. Mike’s been playing with the confidence that comes with health and knowing his body will hold up inside. His outside shot has been confident as well but when it’s not there or he’s covered he moves the ball and repositions. His movement without the ball has gone way up, and his passing from the perimeter to the interior has also been a step up. Now neither team Denver has faced after the break is anything like a juggernaut, but earlier in the season Mike had some opportunities to step up in situations where Jamal Murray or another starter was out and struggled at times to do that. Without Murray tonight MPJ was absolutely ready to go from the jump with a broadening game on both sides, and that bodes extremely well for Denver.

Denver looks like they don’t plan to coast to the finish line, even with a need to focus a little more on the details. The Nuggets came out slow to start this one, down 8-3 after some turnovers and poor play, and Aaron Gordon exhorted them in a timeout to step it up. Jokic had 25 / 14 / 12 after three quarters and Aaron Gordon worked as a secondary assist man in Murray’s absence. Porter played hard and effectively the whole game on both sides, while KCP was diving for loose balls and lazy Portland passes like a man who didn’t have a messed-up hand. Denver has to cut out the turnovers – and locked it down more in that regard in the second half – but the whole squad came out with intent to give Portland questions it couldn’t answer. Reggie Jackson and MPJ need more time together so that Reggie actually learns to pass him the ball, but these are the finer details to be sorted as Denver rolls toward the postseason. The far greater part of Denver’s success down the stretch will be exactly this: come out like you care and play like it matters. Denver did that tonight and blew the doors off Portland.