Not-so-free throws

TRAIL BLAZ­ERS 112, NUGGETS 106

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Christopher Dempsey

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

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