Denver and Nikola Jokic shot the ball well and handed the Portland Trail Blazers (21-23) a road loss to break the two-game streak the Blazers came into the night with.
Both sides came out hot with Damian Lillard posting 10 points in the first quarter while Nuggets guard Jamal Murray had 11.
Meanwhile down low, Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic went toe-to-toe with Nurkic putting up six points with four rebounds while the reigning two-time MVP had eight points and three boards.
Most importantly, the Portland offense continued its momentum from the weekend sweep of Dallas by not turning the ball over.
That carried over into the second quarter where Lillard really got hot, scoring 20 points in the frame alone on four made 3-pointers and a perfect 6 for 6 from the free throw line.
However the issue was Jerami Grant and Nurkic got into foul trouble, which allowed for Jokic to really go to work and end the first half with 21 points, six rebounds and four assists.
The other issue was Denver getting out on the break, putting up 14 fast break point at halftime.
Still, the Portland offense was humming and stayed in it down 73-67 at the break thanks in part to Lillard scoring 30 points, the most he’s had in a first half in his career.
The third quarter was a different story as the Blazers offense of last week showed its head, turning the ball over six times and leaving Denver’s best shooters in Murray and Michael Porter Jr. wide open.
The pair hit four 3-pointers combined in the third to put Denver up 101-89 going into the final frame. Jokic entered the fourth with a triple-double as well, putting up 29-10-10 after three quarters.
Denver finally decided it had enough and brought the double team every time Lillard touched the ball, and that threw everything off for the Blazers offense as no one else hit shots.
Lillard got his passes away, but couldn’t find the lanes inside that he had in the first half. Meanwhile, the rest of the Blazers offense disappeared outside of Grant getting inside for a couple late baskets to keep it somewhat interesting.
In the end, the Nuggets hot shooting, plus the MVP-performance from Jokic was too much to overcome as the Nuggets center only missed one shot all night, going 13 for 14 from the field.
The fourth quarter overall was ugly on both side with plenty of fouls and arguments made on the court. None of it quite went Portland’s way as Denver hit its free throws down the stretch to close the game
Jokic finished with 36 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists while Porter Jr. chipped in 23 points. Lillard had another stellar night, scoring 44 points with eight assists, but the next closest scorer was Grant with 18.
Portland heads back home for a six-game homestand starting at 7 p.m. Thursday with Philadelphia coming to town.
Don’t miss: Nurkic usually has some of his best nights against his former team in Denver, but Jokic got the best of him and the Blazers on Tuesday. The MVP only missed one shot, which was fitting for a Nuggets team that shot 50% from the floor for the game. Some of that was bad defense, but some of it was also some great shot making from the Western Conference’s top team.
Turnovers OK: Portland ended up losing the turnover battle 13-11, however, it only gave up five points off those mistakes while scoring 18 off of Denver’s. Turnovers can be killer, but they weren’t on Tuesday for the Blazers, which can be a positive sign that the team can still find a way to win while moving the ball around.
Climb the ladder: Lillard and his 44 points moved to No. 71 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, passing Dolph Schayes (18,438). He’s scored 30 points or more for five consecutive games now and he entered the night eighth in the league in scoring at 28.8 points per game.
Game grade: C
Honestly, things could have been quite a bit worse with the efficient game Jokic had and the rest of the Denver team shooting the ball well. Portland wasn’t without good looks against a poor defensive team in the Nuggets, it simply couldn’t hit as many. Josh Hart remains in a funk offensively, only scoring four on the night, which might be too much to overcome despite the defense he brings. There’s adjustments to be made as the team continues to get healthy and have options, but defense and managing turnovers will still be the number one factor going forward. Lillard has shown he can take care of the scoring, now he needs the role players to work around him.