PORTLAND — There was not a lot of new things to talk about Saturday night when the Portland Trail Blazers faced the Nuggets on Saturday, four days after beaing them in Denver.
There was nothing new — except the start of a new month and the return of Portland’s All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge as well as reserve center Meyers Leonard.
Aldridge did not play the heavy minutes he usually does, as Blazers coach Terry Stotts wants to ramp up his minutes slowly to ease the re-entry process.
Nevertheless, Aldridge played well — scoring 16 points and grabbing seven rebounds — it was the dynamic duo of Nic Batum and Robin Lopez who stood out, powering the Blazers to a 102-96 victory for their fifth win in a row.
Batum finished with a career-high 16 rebounds to go along with nine points and six assists, while Lopez had a team-high 18 points to go with nine rebounds.
“I just tried to help the bigs inside after they killed us on the boards last game,” said Batum.
In addition to Aldridge, Meyers Leonard made his return to the court and made the most of it, picking up where he left off after a solid outing in his last game against the Clippers on Feb. 13.
Leonard scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds off the bench.
The Nuggets’ February struggles carried over into March as Saturday’s loss was their 10th in their last 11 games.
They have been riddled with injuries all season to many of their most productive players, and their short-handed lineup just has not been able to hold up under the pressure.
The Blazers also applied more pressure on the defensive end than they have this year
On a night when they went 5-for-27 from three-point range, the Blazers won by holding the Nuggets under 40 percent shooting.
Mo Williams frequently pressures the ball when he is in the game, but it carried over Saturday to almost of all of Portland’s perimeter players, especially their bench-heavy units.
Stotts told the media before Saturday’s game that he liked the way that the team had been forcing more turnovers and it appears the press is a strategy to force a little bit more.
Batum and Matthews — the team’s best perimeter defenders — both believe that with more guards applying pressure, it gets the team more focused.
“We started doing it a couple of games ago and we were doing it again,” said Batum. “The way we play defense the last couple of games has been pretty good and with the playoffs coming that will be huge for us.”
“Teams do that to us,” said Matthews. “When second units come in they start picking up Dame and Mo full court. It’s something we had to start doing to make teams uncomfortable and make them take more time to get into their sets it’s a benefit for us.”
Stotts also decided to continue using the energy and length of Will Barton — who was pressing alongside Williams — to the second unit.
While Aldridge was out, the bench stepped up and Stotts feels that those five games may have been a blessing for the bench.
“I think the players that got to play were more comfortable out there and they earned more minutes,” he said. “Getting Will in the rotation, Victor (Claver), Dorell (Wright) at the four is going to be a part of our scheme and I don’t think we would have gotten to that had he not gotten injured.”
Aldridge said that his timing is not back yet, but he is appreciative of the work done by the guys playing in his stead.
“It was great. Guys did what they had to do and I think it’s going to make us better down the stretch,” he said.
The Blazers will next play the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday at 7 p.m. at the Moda Center.