PORTLAND — Jusuf Nurkic had a career-high 33 points with 16 rebounds against his former team, CJ McCollum had 39 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Denver Nuggets 122-113 on Tuesday night to take hold of the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Portland leads Denver by a game for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Blazers also clinched the season-series tiebreaker with the Nuggets, giving them an upper hand with eight games to play.
Jameer Nelson led Denver with 23 points.
The Blazers got Nurkic involved early against his former team. On Portland’s first possession, Nurkic scored on a post-up play against Nikola Jokic, who took Nurkic’s starting spot in Denver.
After another first-quarter basket, Nurkic called on the crowd to pick up the noise, which was a theme for him throughout the night, even while on the bench.
When Nurkic left the game late in the third quarter, he did so to a standing ovation.
It wouldn’t be his last of the night, as Blazers coach Terry Stotts pulled Nurkic for a curtain call with 19 seconds left.
Nurkic spoke to the crowd after the game, even taking a shot at his former team.
“I wish those guys a happy summer,” Nurkic said.
A 24-second violation by Denver at the 2:28 mark of the third got the home crowd into it even more, as Portland rode the momentum and improved defense to a 10-point lead after three quarters.
With 7:21 left in the fourth, McCollum called the crowd to action again after another 3-pointer to give Portland a 107-96 lead.
The game featured seven lead changes and 14 ties before Portland pulled away.
Nuggets: Despite the playoff implications, coach Mike Malone stayed away from calling Tuesday’s game a “must-win.” “Not one time has anyone on this staff said to our players, ‘This is a must-win,”‘ Malone said prior to the game. “Because if we do that and lose this game for some reason, then our players say the season is over, we failed.”
Blazers: The arrival of Nurkic from Denver has coincided with Portland’s longest stretch of winning basketball, going 12-7 since his arrival. Malone didn’t think much had changed with Nurkic, though. “I haven’t seen anything different,” Malone said. “He started 25 games for us and we looked to post him up at times on the left block. He’s a more than capable passer. He’s a guy that can take the ball to the basket at times. We have our starting center in Nikola Jokic. (Nurkic has) come here and given them a boost, I’m happy for him. He’s a good kid.”