DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic just missed out on his third straight triple-double, finishing with 28 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, and the Denver Nuggets spoiled Chauncey Billups’ return with a 124-95 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night.
Billups, a Denver native who had two playing stints with the Nuggets, lost his head coaching debut in his hometown without star Damian Lillard.
Lillard was out with what the team called a lower abdominal tendinopathy. It is an injury the guard has dealt with before and aggravated at the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. Lillard played Wednesday and Friday night before Billups kept him out of Sunday night’s game.
“You know Dame doesn’t like to sit any game, any practice, anything, so I kind of had to force him to do this,” Billups said before the game. “It’s too early in the season to be playing hurt every single night. You need a break, take a break. If you don’t think you need one I might have to give you one.”
CJ McCollum led Portland with 21 points, and Anfernee Simons had 16 starting in place of Lillard. Portland fell to 1-7 on the road.
Six Nuggets players scored in double figures. Rookie Bones Hyland scored 18 points to establish a career high for the fourth straight game.
Jokic came out with 1:24 left in the third quarter and Denver leading 88-77 and sat out the fourth. The Blazers got within nine but Denver went on a 21-4 run at the end of the third and start of the fourth.
Jokic assisted on seven of the team’s first eight baskets and didn’t looking for his own shot until the second quarter.
“Nikola knows the deeper we get into games the more he’s going to have to take over with his scoring and be that go-to player for us,” coach Michael Malone said. “He’s going to read the game and whatever’s given to him he’s going to take and he’s going to try to make him pay for whatever game plan you’ve come up with.”
The Nuggets led by 15 early and never trailed in winning their fifth straight, all at home. They were up 67-53 at halftime and went up by 18 early in the third.
Denver held all five opponents below 100 points on the homestand despite missing key players each night.
“We have a long bench, we have a long roster and everyone can play,” Jokic said. “They showed that. Whoever goes out other guys step and play really good.”
Billups wasn’t happy with Portland’s effort from the start and said it has been a concern of his beyond Sunday night.
“I don’t think we came to compete in this game. This is the team that beat us in the playoffs last year and we come and don’t even compete in the first quarter,” he said. “I’m a little disappointed in that effort. You can’t control shots that will or won’t go down. We got some good looks, just no fight.
“You keep playing that way at some point I have to look at it and say, ‘Something’s not working’ and think about shifting some things around. I’m seeing some consistent things that I’m not very happy with almost every night.”