LaMarcus Aldridge had 32 points and 11 rebounds, Nicolas Batum had 15 points and 7 assists, and the Portland Trail Blazers won their third straight game, battling past the Denver Nuggets, 120-114 Saturday night at Moda Center.
With this win, the Blazers inch closer to a playoff berth. Combined with Oklahoma City's loss to Utah, the Blazers' magic number to clinch the Northwest Division is now three wins or OKC losses. To clinch a playoff berth, they simply need to win one more game, or for the New Orleans Pelicans to lose one. New Orleans plays the Minnesota Timberwolves tomorrow night. If the Pelicans win, the Blazers can clinch a playoff berth during Blazer's Edge Kids Night Monday against the Suns.
The teams played even basketball to start the game, with Denver taking an early advantage with superior rebounding. Fortunately for Portland, Kenneth Faried picked up two fouls in a hurry, and the Blazers capitalized. Aldridge had ten to lead Portland, while Arron Afflalo had six against his former squad. On the other end, Will Barton blocked a shot by Damian Lillard, only to have Dorell Wright send his layup attempt into the third row on the opposite end of the floor. Barton then passed the ball off of CJ McCollum's back for a dunk, and committed a clear-path foul on Wright. All in all, the usual for "The People's Champ". Portland led by six after one.
Chris Kaman led the bench charge in the second quarter, expanding the lead to as many as 11. He had ten points at halftime. McCollum had five in the quarter, but the Blazer shooting hit the usual cold spot, allowing Denver to come back into the game and take a one point lead. Afflalo brought it upon himself to take care of his former squad, scoring nine in the quarter to counter, including a three at the buzzer, and Portland led by five at halftime.
Danger struck minutes into the third quarter as Lillard picked up his third and fourth fouls. With their star point guard out for the remainder of the quarter, the scoring load fell onto Aldridge. If it burdened him, he certainly did not show it. Aldridge scored 14 in the period on 6-of-8 shooting, hitting five straight at one point. Only other Blazers to score more than two was Steve Blake, who scored six. Denver rallied at the end of the period, but Portland led by eight after three.
The eight point lead evaporated almost immediately with Aldridge resting at the start of the fourth. Jusef Nurkic outplayed Kaman for six quick points, and Denver got within two. The Blazers responded with baskets by Kaman and McCollum to return the lead to nine, only for Jameer Nelson to single-handedly close the gap back to three. Responses came from Batum, who scored eight in the period to help Portland close out the game.
Kaman led the bench in scoring with 14. He also snared nine rebounds and had two blocks. McCollum had nine off the bench. Lillard scored just eight points on 4-of-11 shooting. Barton had 12 points for Denver. Afflalo had 21 points, but only took one shot in the second half. Alonzo Gee did not see the court against his former team.
"Me, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers … " — @aldridge_12 on his peers re: the inbounds pass. Couldn't get through the sentence without busting up— Casey Holdahl (@CHold) March 29, 2015