Nuggets latest to get shot at surging Lillard, Blazers

NBA

Damian Lillard cemented his place among the NBA elite when his long 3-pointer eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder in last year’s playoffs.

The Portland Trail Blazer’s guard is now adding to that legacy with one of the most prolific scoring streaks in league history. He capped a six-game onslaught with a 51-point performance in a win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night. He has three games of 50 points or more in his last six and is averaging 48.8 points and 10.2 assists per game in that stretch.

It’s obvious Lillard will be the focus of the Denver Nuggets’ defense when Portland is in town for a Northwest Division matchup on Tuesday night.

Lillard has had good games against the Nuggets but he is coming into the third meeting between the teams playing at another level. In five of the last six games he has scored 47 points or more, and the only game he didn’t he notched his first career triple-double with 36 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this,” Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony told after Saturday’s game. “We’ve seen great basketball, we’ve seen guys score the basketball in different fashions, but what he’s doing, we haven’t seen that in a long time. I’m just happy to be a part of it, be a fan of it.”

Lillard started this scorching stretch with a career-high 61 points against Golden State on Jan. 20. He has also hit 49 of his 3-pointers in the six games, and he has helped Portland win four in a row to climb within four games of .500 with 32 games remaining.

He and his Portland teammates have yet to figure out how to beat Denver this season, however. The Nuggets have taken the first two games, including a win at the Moda Center in Portland on opening night. Tuesday will be the third of four between the teams and the last one in Denver.

The Nuggets come in limping after a disappointing overtime loss at Detroit after leading by 21 early in the first quarter on Sunday. Denver got guard Gary Harris back from personal leave but Jamal Murray (left ankle), Paul Millsap (left knee) and Mason Plumlee (right foot) have missed multiple games in a row.

Add to that the injury Michael Porter Jr. suffered in Milwaukee on Friday night and the Nuggets were digging deep into their bench — and still nearly came away with their third straight win. Porter’s status for Tuesday’s game is not known.

Denver has gotten some big minutes from Malik Beasley, PJ Dozier and Juancho Hernangomez to help keep the team atop the Northwest Division.

“At the end of the day, we feel like we’re one of the best teams in the league,” Nuggets forward Will Barton said. “Top-tier teams don’t make excuses, chasing what we’re trying to chase. You always expect to win, in our mind, no matter what anyone else thinks.”

Portland has gotten a combined three games out of centers Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins this season while Rodney Hood, who played well in the seven-game series win over Denver last spring, ruptured his left Achilles tendon in December.

–Field Level Media

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