The Portland Trail Blazers, with four regular starters and Anfernee Simons, were a relatively easy job for the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night.
The Nuggets worked their way to a 21-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and ended up winning 140-108 at Ball Arena in Denver.
Dennis Smith Jr. started as point guard with Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons absent and went 7 of 12 to the field for 17 points with eight assists. Ben McLemore led the Blazers with 18 points, while Jusuf Nurkic had 10 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Denver scored 11 players, led by Will Barton, who scored 21 points but left the game with an injury after playing 25 minutes. Nikola Jokic scored 20 points and had eight rebounds and seven assists.
It was Denver’s 10th consecutive home win over Portland.
Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said that in a game like this all he wanted his team to do was perform to the best of their ability knowing they were missing some important talent.
“You just want to try and perform your stuff,” he said. “We know what we have back then. It’s like that. But you just wanna try to get out there and run your stuff. I thought we had a good quarter in the first quarter and that it lasted three or four minutes… not having a ball handler there… must have given Dennis a break.
With Lillard and Simons absent, Smith was the only leader remaining. When he left the game, the Blazers clearly struggled.
Defense was also a problem.
“We did a bad job just trying to keep the ball in front of us,” Billups said. “They are good at going down and creating lines. They are good at it. The game kind of escaped us from that point of view.
Denver had 35 assists of 52 field goals and shot 21 of 42 of three (50%).
WHAT THIS MEANS (The score of the box)
The Blazers started 2022 with a 3-2 record with Simons starting in place of Lillard, who had abdominal surgery on Thursday. But without Simons in Denver, the Blazers’ offense seemed lost.
Lillard will be out for at least six weeks, but the team expect CJ McCollum to return to Washington on Saturday or to Orlando on Monday, according to Blazers coach Chauncey Billups. Simons, absent for personal reasons, could return on Saturday. Starting forward Larry Nance Jr. (knee) is traveling and is also expected to return soon.
The Blazers showed a few early fights. Really early. They were only 26-25 down by the end of the first quarter, and then Denver started taking on the Blazers. The Nuggets were leading 41-28 at the end of the first quarter and 72-55 at halftime.
Denver shot 64.4 percent from the field in the first half and had 42 points in the paint. Portland shot solid (46.7%) but had no defensive response for the Nuggets.
The game was closer in the third quarter, but the Blazers were unable to reduce their deficit, which fell to 101-80 before the fourth quarter.
The Blazers continue their six-game trip to Washington on Saturday before playing in Orlando, Miami, Boston and Toronto.
– Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).
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