DENVER (AP) — The combination of Gary Harris and Torrey Craig was too much for Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers to overcome.
Not on offense, but defense.
Harris and Craig hounded the hot-shooting Lillard all evening and never let him get on track as the Denver Nuggets routed Portland 127-99 on Tuesday.
“Everybody was connected,” said Nikola Jokic, who finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists in just three quarters. “Everybody had the same goal — to stop Dame.”
This wasn’t the same Lillard the Nuggets have seen in the past, though. This was a guy who had been shooting out of this world.
Until Tuesday, that is, when Denver finally contained Lillard, ending his string of eight straight games with at least 30 points.
Lillard was held to 21 on 8 of 23 from the floor, predominantly with Harris and Craig taking turns shadowing him.
Well, that and the 7-foot Jokic backing them up.
“I didn’t have as many clean looks, but I still feel like I had some looks that I could have made,” Lillard said. “I thought they got away with a lot, too, just being physical.”
Stopping Lillard has proved a tough assignment these days. He averaged 48.8 points over his last six games entering Tuesday. What’s more, he was shooting 57% from 3-point range during that streak. In this game, he was 1 of 6.
“We did a good job collectively … of not letting him get easy shots and get into a rhythm,” said Craig, who finished with seven points. “We always play pretty good defense against him as a team.”
Lillard had nine assists. He didn’t play in the fourth quarter.
“Tonight just wasn’t our night,” Lillard said. “They made shots. They executed better than we did. We just weren’t at our best.”
The Nuggets pulled away in the second quarter when they outscored the Blazers by a 27-10 margin. The 10 points were a season low for a quarter by Portland. The 38 points at halftime were also a low mark for the season.
Denver led by 34 in the third, and Jokic was given the final quarter off. The big man had two chances to pick up his 10th assist before exiting late in the third, but Craig missed a left-handed layup and Malik Beasley a wide-open 3-pointer. Jokic has 10 triple-doubles this season.
The short-handed Nuggets were without Paul Millsap (bruised left knee), Mason Plumlee (right foot) and Michael Porter Jr. (right ankle). Jamal Murray returned to the lineup after missing 10 games with a sprained left ankle. He finished with 20 points.
“Felt good,” Murray said, even if his ankle was tender after the game. “Felt really good.”
Trail Blazers: CJ McCollum was called for a flagrant-1 foul when he hip-checked Craig on a drive in the second quarter. McCollum had 20 points. … F Nassir Little was helped off the court after rolling his left ankle with 37.9 seconds remaining.
Nuggets: F Jerami Grant hobbled off the floor in the fourth quarter after turning his right ankle. Grant finished with 17 points. … It was Denver’s seventh straight home win over Portland. … Denver improved to 8-0 against Northwest Division rivals this season
Nuggets coach Michael Malone doesn’t give Thursday’s trade deadline much thought. He leaves that to president of basketball operations Tim Connelly & Co.
“If you read my business card, it says head coach,” Malone cracked. “I love where our group is at and the potential we have. That being said, this is a business.”
JAMES FOR JANUARY
Lakers forward LeBron James was named the NBA Western Conference player of the month for January after averaging 25.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 10.4 assists. Lillard’s numbers in the month were equally as impressive: 34.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 8.4 assists.
“It does surprise me,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said when told James won the award for January. “Dame had a great run at the end of the month.”
Trail Blazers: Host San Antonio on Thursday. The teams have split two meetings this season.
Nuggets: At Utah on Wednesday. The Jazz have dropped four straight.
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