PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Trail Blazers weren’t going to try anything out of the ordinary against the Nuggets, especially with injured All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge watching from the bench in street clothes.
The idea, explained forward J.J. Hickson, was for everyone to do “just a little bit more.”
Everyone did, and Portland beat the Nuggets 101-93 on Thursday night for the Blazers’ first four-game winning streak of the season. Nicolas Batum had 22 points and Hickson had 18 points and 18 rebounds for his sixth-straight double-double.
It was an odd loss for the Nuggets, who missed 22 3-pointers, breaking the NBA record for most attempts without a make — a mark that was set a week ago when the Blazers went 0 for 20 from 3-point range in a victory over Toronto.
Denver scored 74 points from inside the paint, and the rest were free throws except for Ty Lawson’s 20-foot pull-up jumper with 38 seconds left in the game.
“The rhythm of the game was not in our favor, and our guys seemed to be worn out a little bit,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “If you make two 3s it’s a different basketball game — a totally different game. It’s not time to panic or anything. We just didn’t have enough shooters out there.”
The Blazers led by as many as 18 in the first half and while the Nuggets were able to close the gap, they were never able to pull even.
Andre Miller’s fade-away for Denver narrowed Portland’s lead to 84-81 with 4:06 left. Batum made a trio of free throws before Miller added a layup to make it 87-83. But Luke Babbitt hit a 3-pointer with 2:31 left to give the Blazers back a 92-83 lead.
Wesley Matthews all but sealed it when his 3-pointer a short time later put the Blazers ahead 97-87 with 1:31 left.
“We were able to get the win,” Matthews said. “We want to correct how many points we gave up in the paint, but that’s for another day. Tonight we’re going to enjoy this win.”
Aldridge sprained his left ankle in Portland’s 95-94 victory over New Orleans on Sunday. The injury occurred in the final minute of the game, which was won on rookie Damian Lillard’s 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds left.
Aldridge, who is averaging 21 points and eight rebounds a game, was off the crutches on Thursday night but he was wearing a boot and walking with a limp.
“We all took it upon ourselves individually to step up and not do anything out of the ordinary, but just do a little bit more and it would make up for him not playing,” Hickson said. “I think we did a great job with that.”
Aldridge was replaced in the starting lineup by 6-foot-11 Joel Freeland, who was making his first start with the Blazers. Freeland finished with two points and three rebounds in 15 minutes.
Matthews, who missed two games with a sore hip then tried to return against the Hornets but left after four minutes — returned with 20 points against Denver, including 10 in the first quarter.
The injury had put Matthews on the bench in street clothes for the first time in his four-year NBA career. He had played in 250 straight games, second-most among active players behind Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.
Lawson, Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer had 13 points each for the Nuggets.
“We had a chance even though we shot terrible,” Brewer said. “It shows that we can still win when we shoot bad, but we have to shoot better.”
Babbitt hit three straight 3-pointers that put the Blazers ahead 36-20 in the second quarter. But after a poor first quarter, the Nuggets mounted a rally late in the second, closing to 38-32 on Danilo Gallinari’s dunk, but they couldn’t get any closer and trailed 50-40 at the half.
JaVale McGee’s dunk pulled the Nuggets to 62-54 but again they struggled to get closer. And they still hadn’t hit a shot from outside the paint through three quarters.
Denver closed to 69-65 on Brewer’s fast-break layup. While the Blazers went nearly five minutes without a field goal, Ronnie Price’s dunk put the crowd on its feet and extended Portland’s lead to 67-75.
Brewer made a pair of free throws to make it 78-75, but Lillard answered with a 3-pointer for the Blazers.
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