TRAIL BLAZERS 112, NUGGETS 106
The Nuggets’ best path to victory Sunday night was the one that most bogged down the game: a steady march to the free-throw line. Free throws played a starring role for much of the game but were eventually relegated to supporting actor status in the Nuggets’ 112-106 loss to Portland at the Pepsi Center.
It went like this: The Nuggets, on the second of a back-to-back set, lived at the line. Portland obliged by fouling them. A lot. And though the Nuggets didn’t make a high percentage of their looks from the charity stripe, they were generally making as many as Portland was taking.
The game, as a result, was choppy at best. No real flow. But then, midway through the fourth quarter, the free throws paused and the pace picked up … and it was Portland that took full advantage. Given a chance to get up-and-down the court without whistles, the well-rested Blazers thrived. Layups. Fast-
break points. They outscored the Nuggets 17-8 to start the period, giving themselves a nine-point lead, and held on from there.
“I thought we had no energy, no effort, very flat,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “As a coach, I can’t coach effort. That’s one thing I can’t do. We didn’t defend. We’re just a bad team right now.”
Portland had already been in town, waiting for the Nuggets while Denver was at Golden State the night before, going to overtime against the defending NBA champions. In fact, the Trail Blazers hadn’t played a game since Thursday.
Meanwhile, the NBA saddled the Nuggets with the very trip they’ve eliminated for so many of their opponents this season — the infamous California-to-Denver back-to-back set.
The Nuggets looked every bit a team with weary legs.
“We expended so much energy last night in an overtime game,” Malone said. “Then you fly back and get in at 3:30 a.m., I think we were gassed tonight. Guys that are usually energy players for us came out flat as a pancake.”
Shooting percentages give that away, particularly jump shots. Free-throw percentages give that away, and the Nuggets made just 64.6 percent (31-of-48) of those for the night. Make 10 more than they did, and the Nuggets walk out with a victory.
Instead, it was their sixth straight loss and their ninth in the last 10 games.
The Nuggets put themselves in position to win, holding Portland to 19 points in the third quarter and entering the fourth tied at 80. But then they just ran out of gas.
That, and they couldn’t handle Blazers guard C.J. McCollum. He torched the Nuggets for 29 points Wednesday night in Portland, and he added 25 more Sunday. He had 18 by halftime, and 11 of those in the second quarter alone.
The Nuggets, whose next two games are on the road, were led by Danilo Gallinari’s 29 points.
“I think we have to take it as a challenge to play 48 minutes,” Gallinari said. “That’s been our problem since the beginning (of the season). We’ve played a few games where we were able to be aggressive for 48 minutes. When we don’t do it, unfortunately we don’t have a winning record. We have to find a way to do it.”
The Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried works against Portland’s Mason Plumlee in the first quarter Sunday night at the Pepsi Center.
The Nuggets’ Jusuf Nurkic makes contact with the Portland Trail Blazers’ Meyers Leonard while going to the hoop during the first quarter Sunday night at the Pepsi Center. Brent Lewis, The Denver Post