Blazers listless without Lillard
Is it time for the Trail Blazers to panic?
Not yet," Portland forward Ed Davis said. "It's getting close, but not yet."
Davis was only semi-serious, which could describe the Blazers' state after Denver handed them a 102-85 licking Friday night at Moda Center.
Portland (16-16) has lost three in a row and six straight at home — its longest losing streak at Moda since dropping eight in a row there at the end of the 2012-13 campaign.
The Blazers are only a game behind Denver and Oklahoma City, who share fifth place in the NBA Western Conference at 17-15. Portland is tied for seventh with New Orleans, 1 1/2 games ahead of ninth-place Utah (15-18) and 2 1/2 in front of the 10th-place L.A. Clippers (13-18).
Eight teams make the playoffs in each conference. The Blazers, who are 9-6 on the road but only 7-10 at home, don't appear postseason-worthy right now.
"For some reason, we're having problems at home," said center Jusuf Nurkic, who had a pedestrian game against him former team with 10 points and one rebound in 24 minutes. "We want to win at home. If you want to be a playoff team, you have to win the home games. For some reason, we have issues right now."
Yes, the Blazers do.
It started with interior defense against the Nuggets, who scored 32 of their first 34 points in the paint on 16 baskets. The only two points they scored that were not in the paint came on free throws. Denver ended up overwhelming the Blazers 64-46 in points in the paint.
"Our defense was just trash," Davis said.
"In the first quarter, 26 of (the Nuggets') 28 points were in the paint," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "That's not good enough (defense). We didn't put up much resistance handling their dribble handoffs and challenging shots at the rim."
For the first time this season, the Blazers were going without their meal ticket, point guard Damian Lillard, who sat out after straining his right hamstring in Wednesday's loss to San Antonio.
"Tonight showed how valuable 'Dame' is to us," Davis said. "We can't use that as an excuse. A lot of teams have to play without their best player at times. But tonight really showed his value."
Denver dominated nearly every statistical category, shooting .494 from the field, blocking 10 shots and outrebounding the Blazers 49-34.
"Just an overall bad game for us," Nurkic said. "We didn't do the job we're supposed to do. Seemed like we didn't know how to play without our best player. Without Damian, we don't have those 25 points (a game)."
The Nuggets ended a nine-game losing streak at Moda.
"It's a hell of a win," Denver coach Mike Malone said. "I asked (the Denver players) before the game, 'What happened on Feb. 27, 2013?' Everybody looked around like, 'I have no idea.' I said, 'That's the last time we won in this building.' "
Denver center Nikola Jokic had just celebrated his 18th birthday in his native Serbia.
"I was back home, driving horses, so I don't remember that period," he quipped. "But I'm very happy to end that losing streak."
Nurkic asked out of Denver after being beaten out for a starting spot by Jokic. In his two games against the Nuggets after last season's trade-deadline deal with Portland, Nurkic had averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds while shooting .633. Jokic had averaged 11.5 points and 7.5 boards while shooting only .391.
"For whatever reason, (Jokic) becomes more reserved against Nurk," Malone said prior to the game. "We need Nikola to step up and play well tonight. We can't be buddy buddy with anybody. This is business. We need to get a win tonight."
Though they were matched up against each other only a portion of the time, Jokic badly outplayed his former teammate Friday night, finishing with 27 points on 12-for-21 shooting to go with nine rebounds and six assists.
"Tonight, I think he got over a mental block," Malone said. "He went out there and attacked. He was effective all over the floor — scoring, rebounding, play-making."
Said Nurkic: "He had a good game. We didn't guard him. We should know they're going to play through him. We didn't handle it well."
Nurkic was defended most often by Mason Plumlee, whom the Blazers sent to Denver in the Nurkic trade. Plumlee blocked four shots and contributed eight points and five boards in 25 minutes.
"He did a great job guarding Nurk down low," Malone said.
After falling behind by 11 points early, the Blazers led briefly at 31-30 early in the second quarter. They trailed by double digits from late second-period on and were never really in it after intermission.
"We didn't play a very good game," Stotts said. "(The Nuggets) won every quarter. We didn't do very many things well enough to come close to winning the game tonight."
Was effort an issue?
"We didn't have a lot of pop," Stotts conceded. "I always have a hard time differentiating between effort and not playing well."
However you phrase it, it wasn't a good performance by the Blazers. Now they head to Los Angeles for a Thursday night date with the L.A. Lakers, who beat the Houston Rockets on Wednesday and lost narrowly Friday at Golden State.
"In the NBA, you can get over losses quick," Davis said. "We've got another chance (Saturday), but we're going against another young, hungry team and they're going to be ready to play. It's not going to be a cakewalk."
NOTES: Lillard will accompany the Blazers to Los Angeles, but "he's most likely not playing," Stotts said. The hope is Lillard would recover in time for Portland's home date next Thursday against Philadelphia. … CJ McCollum led Portland with 15 points but was only 7 for 18 from the field, including 1 for 5 from 3-point range. Shabazz Napier came off the bench for 14 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals but made only 6 of 15 field goal tries. … Moe Harkless, who had played nine minutes in the previous seven games, had four points and two rebounds in 19 minutes. … Jake Layman earned his first start of the season, and the second of his career. He went scoreless in 10 minutes. … Caleb Swanigan, who had played one minute in the previous 13 games, scored two points in four minutes of garbage duty.
Wilson Chandler had a season-high 21 points and 11 rebounds for Denver … Former Blazer guard Will Barton came off the bench for 12 points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes. "Will is shooting 38 percent from (3-point range), and I know hard he's worked at becoming a better shooter," Stotts said. "Will has always been a baller. A lot of what he's doing now, you could anticipate that he'd be doing later in his career." … Portland entered the game ranked last in the NBA in field-goal percentage inside the circle and inside five feet. The Blazers were shooting in the 55 percent range in both categories. "That's not good enough," Stotts said. "We have to do a better job of finishing in the paint and around the basket."