All Batum can do is spark Blazers to win over Nuggets

Forward makes nine 3-pointers in first game since injury

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

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Last Monday, Nicolas Batum injured his knee. Five days later, he brought the Denver Nuggets down to theirs.

Unsure that he was going to even play a few hours before the game, the Trail Blazers forward made a franchise-record and NBA season-high nine 3-pointers in Portland’s 117-97 win over the Nuggets. He also scored a career-high 33 points in a mere 24 minutes.

Batum said it wasn’t until he spoke with Blazers coach Nate McMillan after the team’s pre-game shootaround that he made the decision to suit up. And looking back on it Saturday ...

“I think it was a good choice,” Batum said.

The Frenchman suffered a contusion on his right knee in the final minute in Portland’s four-point loss to Utah earlier in the week. As a result, he sat out during the Blazers’ win against Charlotte on Wednesday and their road loss to Sacramento the following night.

Batum said he wanted to “jump through the TV and step on the court” while watching Thursday’s loss to the Kings from home. He’d have to settle for stepping on the Nuggets instead.

Batum knocked down his first 3-pointer with one minute remaining in the first quarter -- three minutes after he checked into the game.

He connected on four more in the second quarter, and went into halftime with a game-high 17 points.

Despite the scoring outburst, Batum said his knee was still tender and admitted to soreness after the game.

In fact, the dinged-up joint played a major role in his approach to the game.

“When I went into the game, I was like ‘Don’t hurt your knee. Don’t be crazy’,” said Batum, who said it wasn’t the best game of his career because he didn’t have a rebound or an assist. “All I could do is shoot. I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t dunk, I missed a wide open layup. All I could do is shoot.”

And he certainly wasn’t shy about doing so.

After adding one 3-pointer in the third quarter and three more in the fourth, Batum finished the game 9 of 15 from deep.

The previous franchise-high for makes eight by Wesley Matthews. The previous NBA-season high was eight by Anthony Morrow. Batum’s previous career-high scoring total, meanwhile, was 31.

The shooting display certainly delighted the crowd, but it didn’t necessarily shock his teammates. After the game, Blazers forward Gerald Wallace hailed Nic’s outside touch, adding that he was primarily impressed by the way he performed coming off an injury.

“I mean, he can shoot. I already know that. Trust me, I have to contest those shots in practice every day, so I already know what he can do,” Wallace said. “Like I said, I was just impressed with him doing it with a banged-up knee. That makes it even more impressive to me.”

Rarely is 29-point performance on 13-of-18 shooting overshadowed, but that’s just what happened to LaMarcus Aldridge Saturday. The Portland forward added nine rebounds to his stat line and caught the attention of a man he hopes to play against in the All-Star Game later this month -- LeBron James.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Miami Heat forward tweeted “Man LaMarcus Aldridge aka LA got so much game!! Smooth out there.”

And at times, they needed him to be.

The Blazers (14-10) looked as though they had blown the game open when they took a 16-point lead with 7:24 left in the first half. Then, Denver (15-9) climbed back to within six by halftime and was down just two a minute into the third quarter.

But a 19-6 run by Portland quickly extinguished the threat, and the score was never within double digits again.

Marcus Camby grabbed 20 rebounds in 29 minutes, marking the third time this year he’s had at least 20 boards. Wallace added 17 points on 8 of 17 shooting, while Danilo Gallinari led the Nuggets, which had played their third game in as many days, with 20 points.

In the third quarter, Blazers point guard Raymond Felton left the game with a left foot injury and did not return. X-rays came back negative, and when asked he would play in Portland's next game, Felton answerd "I hope so."

The Blazers next play Monday night, when they will host Kevin Durant and the Thunder, which hold the NBA’s best record at 18-5.

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or matt.calkins@columbian.com