Capitals

Blazers defeat Nuggets 101-93 for 4th straight win

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Blazers defeat Nuggets 101-93 for 4th straight win

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) J.J. Hickson had 18 points and 18 rebounds for his sixth straight double-double, and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Denver Nuggets 101-93 on Thursday night.

Nicolas Batum had 22 points to give the Blazers their first four-game winning streak of the season despite missing forward LaMarcus Aldridge because of a sprained left ankle.

The Nuggets were 0 for 22 from 3-point range, breaking the NBA record of 20 misses set by the Trail Blazers in a game against Toronto last week. Seventy-four of Denver's point came in the paint.

The Blazers led by as many as 18 in the first half and while the Nuggets were able to close the gap, they were never able to pull even.

Andre Miller's fade-away for Denver narrowed Portland's lead to 84-81 with 4:06 left. Batum made a trio of free throws before Miller added a layup to make it 87-83. But Luke Babbitt hit a 3-pointer with 2:31 left to give the Blazers back a 92-83 lead.

Wesley Matthews all but sealed it when his 3-pointer a short time later put the Blazers ahead 97-87 with 1:31 left.

Aldridge sprained his left ankle in Portland's 95-94 victory over New Orleans on Sunday. The All-Star twisted the ankle in the final minute of the game, which was won on rookie Damian Lillard's 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds left.

Aldridge, who is averaging 21 points and eight rebounds a game, was off the crutches on Thursday night but he was wearing a boot and walking with a limp.

He was replaced in the starting lineup by 6-foot-11 Joel Freeland, who was making his first start with the Blazers.

Portland saw the return of Matthews, who missed two games with a sore hip, then tried to return against the Hornets but played only about four minutes. The injury had put Matthews on the bench in street clothes for the first time in his four-year NBA career. He had played in 250 straight games, second-most among active players behind Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook.

He seemed fully recovered for the Nuggets, coming out with 10 points in the first quarter alone and he finished 20 points.

Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer had 13 points each for the Nuggets.

Babbitt hit three straight 3-pointers that put the Blazers ahead 36-20 in the second quarter. But after a poor first quarter, the Nuggets mounted a rally late in the second, closing to 38-32 on Danilo Gallinari's dunk, but they couldn't get any closer and trailed 50-40 at the half.

JaVale McGee's dunk pulled the Nuggets to 62-54 but again they struggled to get closer. And they still hadn't hit a shot from outside the paint through three quarters.

Denver closed to 69-65 on Brewer's fast-break layup. While the Blazers went nearly five minutes without a field goal, Ronnie Price's dunk put the crowd on its feet and extended Portland's lead to 67-75.

Brewer made a pair of free throws to make it 78-75, but Lillard answered with a 3-pointer for the Blazers.

NOTES: Freeland played for host Britain in the London Olympics last summer. ... Denver reserve forward Anthony Randolph returned after missing Tuesday night's game against San Antonio because of a sinus infection.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

The Capitals are the Eastern Conference Champions!

After dispatching Tampa Bay in Game 7, the Caps claimed the conference crown for just the second time in franchise history. But they're not done yet. Now it's on to Vegas to face the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps' win over the Lightning and look ahead to the matchup with the Knights.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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