Blazers not missing out on a win

Portland gets past 3-point-challenged Nuggets




Portland Trail Blazers center J.J. Hickson, left, shoots over Denver Nuggets center Kosta Koufos during the first quarter Thursday.

Portland's Nicolas Batum (88) shoots over Denver's Jordan Hamilton during the second half Thursday. Batum led the Trail Blazers in scoring with 22 points.

PORTLAND — Nearly two weeks ago, the Portland Trail Blazers started this four-game winning streak with a dubious asterisk.

Back on Dec. 10, the Blazers defeated the Toronto Raptors in spite of bricking all 20 of their 3-point attempts, setting an NBA single-game record for most misses without a make. History was made, but the point that sticks in the minds of the Blazers: They still won the game.

On Thursday night, that record transferred to the Denver Nuggets who couldn’t hit a 3-pointer but dominated inside thanks to the Blazers’ olé defense.

Again, the only fact that mattered in the locker room: Blazers still won the game.

The Blazers triumphed 101-93 for their fourth straight victory, improving to 12-12 and gaining ground on the Northwest Division rival Nuggets. Each of the four wins have come at home, as well as with the distinction that the Blazers played without the benefits of a full deck.

Though Wesley Matthews returned the starting lineup for a full game, after missing the better part of the last three with a strain to his left hip flexor, this time LaMarcus Aldridge remained on the bench. Aldridge missed the game with a left ankle sprain but in his absence, J.J. Hickson started at power forward and produced a monster game of 18 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks.

“As a team, we wanted to go out and do a little bit more than we usually do,” said Hickson, who has 14 double-doubles on the season. “I think everybody did that. Everybody stepped up and played their part and we got the win.”

Denver returns to the mountains with its 12th road loss, and as the new holders of the NBA record of most 3-point misses in a single game (0-for-22.)

“We played through a lot of misery,” Denver coach George Karl said. “A lot of tough basketball and tough calls. The rhythm of the game was not in our favor, and our guys seemed to be worn out a little bit. If you make two threes, it’s a different basketball game — a totally different game.”

If the Nuggets’ 3-point shooting wasn’t hideous enough, the team also made just one of their 38 field goals from outside the paint.

“Really?” coach Terry Stotts responded when he was told about the stat after the game.

“Serious?” Stotts said, still sounding incredulous.

Yeah, seriously, the Nuggets (14-13) didn’t score an outside jump shot until Ty Lawson pulled up from 20 feet with only 38 seconds remaining in the game.

So, do the math. Only one outside field goal means that the Nuggets lived and worked in the post all game long for an astonishing 37 field goals for 74 points in the paint.

“Weird,” Nicolas Batum said, describing the game. “Ugly.”

Portland’s interior defense was bad, but Denver’s shooting was apoplectically bad. If the Mayans are right, then the sellout crowd at the Rose Garden of 19,982 had to go out after watching a game when a professional basketball team failed to make a shot beyond 23 feet out while the other pros could not stop layups.

“At least we go out on a win,” Matthews said.

The Blazers once led by 18 points but Denver chopped the lead to 78-75 with 6:40 remaining in the game. The sequence that would follow best exemplified the game — Portland bombing away from 3-point territory and Denver residing in the paint.

Portland worked through an offensive set when JaVale McGee swatted down Batum’s attempt at the rim. Batum got his own rebound, and with the shot clock draining down to four seconds, Damian Lillard saved the Blazers with a 3-pointer.

The next trip down, Denver responded with McGee’s alley oop dunk. And with the lead now only four points, Batum erased McGee’s previous dunk moments later with his season-high fifth 3-pointer.

The Blazers made 14 of 36 from three with substitute Luke Babbitt hitting four and finishing with a season-high 14 points.