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McCollum, Nurkic propel Trail Blazers past Nuggets

McCollum, Nurkic propel Trail Blazers past Nuggets
Published On: Wed, Mar 29
Apr 25, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum (3) reacts after being fouled by Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum (3) in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Jusuf Nurkic claimed it wasn't personal, but it sure appeared that way.

Nurkic was demonstrative, expressive and effective as he helped his new team, the Portland Trail Blazers, past his old team, the Denver Nuggets, in an important 122-113 victory Tuesday night at Moda Center.

The 7-foot center -- acquired in a trade with Denver on Feb. 13 -- scored a career-high 33 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked three shots as the Trail Blazers (36-38) claimed their 12th win in 15 outings.

"I knew he'd be ready to play," said Portland guard CJ McCollum, who bombed in 39 points himself. "He's had this game circled since he got here.

"We have a slogan for the big Nurk: 'From the bench to the playoffs.' We knew he'd be aggressive, he'd be efficient. He did what we expected."

Damian Lillard contributed 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the Blazers, who moved a game ahead of Denver (35-39) in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

But it was McCollum and Nurkic who did the most damage.

"McCollum had a great night, and Nurkic kicked our (rear)," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "Those two guys singlehandedly won the game for them."

McCollum made 15 of 24 shots from the field, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range, and was 6 for 6 at the free-throw line. The shooting guard also had five rebounds and three assists with only one turnover in 40 minutes.

Nurkic was 12 for 15 from the field and 9 of 11 from the line.

"I'm happy with the win," he said. "We need to win games if we want to be in the playoffs. When you see the fans cheering in the packed arena, it's hard not to play with a little emotion."

Extra incentive to go against the old team?

"Not really," Nurkic said. "I love those guys. I'm happy to see them and to talk to them. It's always nice to see friends when you've spent three years with them."

Jameer Nelson led six Denver double-figure scorers with 23 points. Gary Harris scored 19 points, and Nikola Jokic collected 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

Denver came in ranked No. 1 in the NBA in rebounding percentage, Portland 14th. The Blazers won the battle of the boards 48-47, grabbing 16 off the offensive glass. That paved the way for 28 second-chance points.

"You can't go on the road and get your (rear) kicked on the glass like that and give out 28 points," Malone said. "That's not going to get it done."

Denver took a 33-28 lead late in the first quarter, then carried a 35-32 advantage into the second period despite 13 points by Nurkic.

The Nuggets extended the margin to 41-34 and led by six before the Blazers went on a 10-0 run to go ahead 56-52. Nurkic went for 21 points and McCollum 20 as the Blazers carried a 66-64 lead into halftime.

Portland led 83-76 midway through the third quarter, Nurkic (29 points) already surpassing his previous career high of 28. The Blazers increased the difference to 95-83 on a deep 3-pointer by Lillard and a put-back by Al-Farouq Aminu. It was 95-85 heading into the final period.

The Nuggets got to within 109-103 with 5:05 remaining, but Aminu came through with five consecutive points for a 114-103 advantage. The Nuggets got no closer than seven points the rest of the way.

"You're in the driver's seat when you control your own destiny," Lillard said. "We got in the driver's seat (for the eighth playoff spot) after the Lakers game (a 97-81 win on Sunday), but we didn't have the keys to the car. Tonight was a battle for the keys to the car.

"We got the keys; now we have to control where it's going. We know what the destination is, but we have to make sure to stay locked in to get it to where we need to go."

NOTES: Portland matched a season high with its fourth win in a row. ... The Blazers won the season series with the Nuggets 3-1, the first tiebreaker in the event the teams finish with the same regular-season record. ... The Blazers shot 49.5 percent from the field, had only nine turnovers and held Denver to 49 second-half points. ... Denver shot 54.5 percent in the first half but finished at 46.3 percent for the night. ... Portland coach Terry Stotts, asked before the game if he would attempt to calm C Jusuf Nurkic down before playing against his former team: "I'm not one to calm players down. I like them playing with energy."

Read the complete news article here...

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