NBA Preview from The Sports Network
Thursday, December 20th (All times Eastern)
Denver Nuggets (14-12) at Portland Trail Blazers (11-12), 10 p.m.
(Sports Network) - Rookie guard Damian Lillard hit one of what figures to be many big shots over his NBA career last time out to give the Portland Trail Blazers a victory.
The 22-year-old may have to come up clutch again on Thursday night with Portland slated to be without star forward LaMarcus Aldridge in a meeting with the up-tempo Denver Nuggets.
Aldridge had 20 points in Sunday's 95-94 victory over the New Orleans Hornets before exiting with a sprained left ankle. The former second-overall pick of the 2006 draft is averaging 21.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, but has been unable to practice due to his injury and was declared out for this game by head coach Terry Stotts.
"Obviously that's a lot of minutes, a lot of points and rebounds and our best player," Stotts said. "So, different players are gonna have to do different things, but we've done it before when other players have sat out."
Aldridge isn't the only player who could miss this game. Guard Nolan Smith has been held out of practice due to illness and is questionable for tonight along with forward Sasha Pavlovic (strained glute) and guard Wesley Matthews (left hip flexor).
"Everybody's got to ratchet it up a bit," said Stotts.
Lillard is certainly capable of doing that. The sixth overall pick of the most recent draft capped a 16-point performance on Sunday by hitting a game-winning 3-pointer with just 0.3 seconds left on the clock and all the Hornets could manage with the time left was a two-point bucket to account for the final score.
Portland had to hold on after taking a 12-point lead into the fourth frame.
"Their rebounding and 3-point shooting obviously kept them in the game and got them in a position to win the game, but we bent but we didn't break. I was pleased with that," Stotts said. "We could have pushed our lead a little bit more. That bit us as the game went forward."
J.J. Hickson added a season-high 24 points to go along with 16 rebounds, while Nicolas Batum became the first player since Jamaal Tinsley on Nov. 16, 2001 to record at least 10 assists, five steals and five blocks in a game. Batum ended with 11 points, a career-high 10 assists, five boards, five steals and five blocks in an impactful effort that gave Portland a third straight victory to match a season high.
The Trail Blazers, who haven't won four straight since March 2-8, 2011, are 3-1 on a six-game homestand that ends on Saturday against Phoenix.
Denver will look to push its winning streak to four straight, which would match a season high. The Nuggets improved to 7-1 at home on the season with Tuesday's 112-106 triumph over the San Antonio Spurs.
It wasn't easy as the Spurs cut a 15-point deficit to just three points with 4 1/2 minutes to play. However, Denver countered with a 7-2 run and was able to hold off San Antonio.
"It was good to see that we could keep our composure and close the game out like we did," said Nuggets guard Andre Iguodala, who had 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
Danilo Gallinari had a season-high 28 points to go along with nine rebounds and is averaging 21.3 points over his last four games.
"He got some matchups where his speed was effective. He got some one-on-one stuff. He got to the free-throw line and made some threes," Denver head coach George Karl said.
Kenneth Faried added 19 points and 11 boards, while Kosta Koufos pulled down 14 rebounds to match a career high for the Nuggets, who will play their 19th road game of the campaign tonight. They are 7-11 as the guest so far.
The Nuggets have lost five straight in Portland, losing both trips there a season ago.
12/20 10:37:31 ET