Another home game against a team above the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference standings, another one-point loss Wednesday night – this time 106-105 to Denver.
Again, though, Portland played better – with more purpose, more intensity and even better defense.
If you can take consolation in losing by a single point for the second night in a row, this was your game. In fact, three of Portland’s last four defeats have been by one point.
“I was pleased with the way we competed for most of the game,” Terry Stotts said. “You know there were a couple lulls offensively, in the second quarter, but we competed throughout the game and we put ourselves in position to win against a good team.
“It's very disappointing to lose this game, but as I said, I think we're playing better basketball. When you look at four out of our last five games: Boston, San Antonio. Clippers and tonight. We were playing good teams and playing them well, we just came up short three times.”
The game was tied at 99 with 4:57 to go and from there until the end of the game there was a total of just 13 points scored by the teams.
That was caused by a brand of physical defense that smelled of playoff basketball – or at least playoff officiating, as the three whistle-tooters apparently decided to turn a blind eye to a whole lot of unnecessary contact.
Well, that and and the fact there were 18 missed shots, including a high-arcing floater from Norman Powell that would have won it for the Trail Blazers at the final horn.
Portland held the Nuggets to 44.3 percent from the field and 33.3 from three-point range. And the Blazers did a very nice job of keeping Nikola Jokic, the presumptive MVP choice this season, under control.
Jokic finished with 25 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four turnovers – thanks to a Jusuf Nurkic’s ability to handle him physically.
Portland’s offensive stats were very similar to Denver’s, as you might expect in a one-point game. But the Blazers got just 22 points (9-23 from the field) from Damian Lillard, who was seeing his first action in more than a week due to hamstring soreness.
He moved well, but the ball didn’t go in for him – which is not unexpected after time off.
It’s possible, too, he’s still adjusting to the new emphasis away from so many pick-and-rolls, which he says has been the “bread-and-butter” for him and CJ McCollum for several seasons.
Portland meets Memphis Friday and Sunday in two critical conference matchups.