Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum (left knee) had missed a total of 10 games before returning on Sunday night to face the Nuggets. Portland went 8-2 during that span.
With the Nuggets now guaranteed to finish no worse than third in the Western Conference standings, Denver decided to rest Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, and Jamal Murray on Sunday.
Even though, Denver was without three starters, the Nuggets kept it close throughout. Denver took care of the ball and despite being the smaller team down low, they were able to keep up with the Blazers on the glass. Portland eventually was able to pull away and snag a 115-108 victory behind McCollum's passing and Damian Lillard's key three-pointer in the last three minutes of action.
With the win, the Blazers snapped a six-game losing streak to the Nuggets.
Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers seventh consecutive home win:
1. McCollum back and on the attack
Trail Blazers fans at Moda Center gave CJ McCollum a warm welcome back during introductions.
It looked as though McCollum had not missed the last 10 games. He was still as aggressive as you expect from him. From media row, McCollum was getting up and down the court just fine, which is always the biggest concern when a guy misses that much time.
Rodney Hood subbed in for McCollum at the 3:16 mark of the first quarter. In his first stint, McCollum went 3-of-6 from the field for nine points and dished out 2 assists in nine minutes of work.
McCollum returned at the 8:58 mark of the second quarter and when he got his name called off the bench, he sprinted to the scorer’s table to get back in the game. That sprint made you forget about any kind of knee injury.
McCollum played a surprising 14 minutes in the first half. He had nine points, four assists, and two rebounds at halftime.
Despite the good first half, McCollum looked rusty in the second. Only time will tell how long until McCollum hits his full game stride again.
The 27-year-old finished with 25 minutes of work. He had nine points, six assists, and six rebounds in the win.
2. Getting more shooters back on the court
Not only did the Blazers get McCollum back, Seth Curry returned from a one game absence as well after dealing with left tibia soreness. The Blazers had missed Curry’s shooting in Friday’s loss to Denver. Curry had been playing so well with McCollum out and just because the Blazers got their starting two-guard back, it did not effect Curry’s minutes or his shot.
Through the first two quarters, Curry had had 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including 1-of-2 from three.
His shooting from deep and his midrange game has been on point lately. There’s no doubt his scoring is going to be a necessity in the postseason. Having another weapon like Curry off the bench is what the Blazers were missing last season when Portland got swept by New Orleans.
Al-Farouq Aminu was also very aggressive on the offensive end. Chief notched a new season-high with 23 points.
3. Short-handed Nuggets hang around
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Blazers had a five point lead. The Nuggets relied on Gary Harris and Trey Lyles on the offensive end. You’ve got to give the Nuggets some credit; they never once looked like they didn’t believe they could win.
Denver’s head coach Mike Malone said before the game, even though they were resting their stars, that did not mean they weren’t looking to get the win and “play the right way.”
Sunday’s performance by Denver showed just how deep this team is this season. For Portland, the game showed this squad could be a little worn out right now.
NEXT UP: The Trail Blazers will finish the regular season with a back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday night. Portland travels to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers Tuesday at 7:30pm. You can catch all the action on NBC Sports Northwest with our pregame coverage starting at 6:30pm. The Blazers then host the Kings at 7:30pm on Wednesday.
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