The Trail Blazers suffered their third defeat in four games following a 15-point loss to the Nuggets on Thursday. Buoyed by 46 points from their reserves, the Nuggets secured a 114-99 victory over their division rival. For Portland, Hassan Whiteside put together a stellar 33-point, 11-rebound double-double in the loss. In all-too-familiar fashion, the Blazers’ lack of defense and depth cost them as the action unfolded.
Whiteside’s presence was felt on both ends of the floor from the outset of Thursday’s action. The big fella provided the only defensive resistance, securing two blocks in the process. Whiteside successfully kept Nikola Jokic off balance by slipping screens and exploiting space, allowing him to notch 13 points in the opening quarter.
The Nuggets clearly did their homework and attacked the Blazers’ defense early in the shot clock. When they weren’t able to push the pace, Jokic orchestrated Denver’s offense with accurate passing from just beyond the nail. The Nuggets connected on 58 percent of their three-point attempts in the first quarter, giving them a 33-26 advantage.
Energetic and effective play from the Nuggets’ reserves placed the Blazers in a double-digit hole, an outcome that would reappear later. Second-year forward Michael Porter Jr. couldn’t miss from beyond the arc. The youngster effortlessly combined his length and flawless form to connect on three-pointers. Summoned back into action, CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony triggered a momentum-shifting 7-0 run that forced a Nuggets timeout.
Outside of McCollum and Melo, Anfernee Simons reeled off seven points while facing the friendly defense of Jamal Murray. Unfortunately for Portland, that run couldn’t overcome the lapses on the defensive end. Even when the Nuggets missed, the lengthy duo of Whiteside and Skal Labissière failed to prevent Denver from securing offensive rebounds. The Nuggets cruised to the halftime whistle with a 62-53 advantage.
Following a quiet second quarter, the Blazers focused on getting Whiteside involved early. Facing Jokic, Portland’s big fella connected on attempts from the block and finished at the rim when he rolled off screens. Melo kept the points rolling with a wide open shot from the corner and supplemented his three-point offense by hunting for mismatches in the midrange.
Much like the first half, the Nuggets’ bench unit fueled an impressive 10-0 run to finish the third quarter. Monte Morris and Jerami Grant looked unstoppable, giving Denver 89-78 lead after three quarters.
Trailing by double-digits, the Blazers’ careful offense finally cracked in the fourth quarter. Routine passes to the post started to miss, compounding the issues on the defensive end. Grant continued his perfect shooting from distance, allowing the Nuggets to protect their sizable lead. Incapable of stringing together stops on the defensive end, Portland failed to cut into Denver’s comfortable lead. Whiteside did put together one final push late in the period, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Nuggets’ double-digit victory.
All The Good Was No Match For Poor Defense
The Blazers received excellent contributions from non-backcourt players, managed turnovers, and shot efficiently from the field. Even with that trio working in their favor, the Blazers couldn’t overcome the damage inflicted by the Nuggets’ offense.
The hurdles that the Blazers face are monumental and tonight’s result serves as an excellent example. Saddled with injuries and suspect depth, this squad has to do more than thread the needle through a tight margin of error in order to secure a victory against a quality team. Instead, they will need to find the basketball equivalent of the Contra cheat code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start).
Portland matched Denver’s field goal percentage (47.7), committed fewer turnovers, and received a 33-point boost from Whiteside.
Single Ant Colony
The Nuggets utilized double-digit production from Grant and Morris to build big leads when the Blazers’ starters went to the bench. Portland fielded just nine points from their reserves, all of which came from Simons. Following Rodney Hood’s injury, Mario Hezonja has recorded seven points in 43 minutes of action.
The Blazers return to action on Monday with a trip to Phoenix to face the Suns.