DENVER (AP) – Andre Iguodala scored 28 points and the Denver Nuggets set an NBA franchise record with their 55th win Sunday, beating the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 118-109 but losing another starter.
On the day Ty Lawson (right heel) returned to Denver’s starting lineup for the first time since March 27 and posted 12 points and 10 assists in an encouraging 31 minutes, forward Kenneth Faried sprained his left ankle in the opening minutes while driving for a layup.
X-rays were negative and the Nuggets said he’s day to day.
Rookie Evan Fournier scored 24 points in his second career start, sinking a pair of crucial 3-pointers in the closing minutes after the Trail Blazers had cut a 20-point deficit to 104-101 with 3:33 left. Reserve Anthony Randolph added 18 points.
Rookie Damian Lillard led Portland with 30 points but also had eight of the Trail Blazers’ 23 turnovers as they lost their 11th straight game.
Faried crumpled to the floor, covering his face and holding his left ankle as the Nuggets called a timeout less than three minutes into the game. The Pepsi Center crowd grew quiet – the way it had 10 days earlier when forward Danilo Gallinari blew out his left ACL driving to the same hoop.
Teammates Quincy Miller and Anthony Randolph helped Faried as he gingerly walked off the court, a towel covering his face, and then was taken for X-rays.
Faried, who was averaging 11.7 points and a team-best 9.3 rebounds, was replaced by Wilson Chandler, who had been starting with Gallinari out but was returned to the bench Sunday by coach George Karl in hopes of getting him more minutes and fewer fouls.
Portland was without three starters: LaMarcus Aldridge (right ankle), Wesley Matthews (right ankle) and Nicolas Batum (right shoulder), so coach Terry Stotts started four rookies.
Still, Karl was his usual nervous self before tipoff.
“It’s a wounded animal team. Every NBA team can figure it out and change their destiny pretty quickly,” he explained. “There’s a lot of young kids on the court trying to show they deserve to be in the NBA and they deserve to be in Portland. I’m sure they’re going to be hungry and aggressive.”
The Nuggets went 54-28 in both 1987-88 and 2008-09, when they reached the Western Conference finals. By improving to an NBA-best 37-3 at home, they also set a record for most home wins in a season since joining the NBA 37 years ago. Denver went 36-5 at home under Larry Brown in 1976-77.
And by extending their franchise-best winning streak at home to 22 straight games, the Nuggets moved a game ahead of the Clippers and Grizzlies in the race for the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Nuggets (55-25) can clinch homecourt advantage in the first round with a win at Milwaukee on Monday night or a victory over Phoenix at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday night.
But they might have to start the playoffs without Faried, something that could derail their dreams of a deep playoff run.
Fournier scored 13 first-half points as the Nuggets built a 67-50 halftime lead. Lawson had just one bucket but eight assists by halftime. Denver built its lead to 83-63 before Karl’s concerns were realized and the Trail Blazers made a game of it.
Portland used a 9-0 run in the third quarter to cut the deficit to single digits, and the Trail Blazers pulled to 100-96 on Lillard’s two free throws with 4:56 left, capping a 12-2 run.
J.J. Hickson’s free throw with 3:33 left made it 104-101, but that was as close as it got.
It was 106-102 when Lawson sank two free throws and Fournier swished a 3-pointer from the left corner to give Denver some breathing room.
Fournier’s 3-pointer from the other side made it 118-107 with 47 seconds left.
Notes: The Nuggets nearly scored off an inbound pass with three-tenths of a second left in the first half, but JaVale McGee’s tip of Iguodala’s long pass rattled out as the horn sounded. … Asked before tipoff what he wanted to get out of the last three regular season games, Karl said, “Wins, defensive focus and playoff intensity.” He also said he’d like to get Iguodala and PG Andre Miller some rest after playing heavy minutes this month.
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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