JaMychal Green erupted for 20 points and 10 rebounds off the bench to give the Denver Nuggets their sixth win in a row after defeating the Portland Trail Blazers 124-92 at the Moda Center. The Nuggets bench unit scored a season-high 76 points.
“That second unit is really establishing an identity and they’re getting some chemistry and some continuity,” Michael Malone said. “Tonight they were the difference makers… and I think it starts with the intangibles and the intangibles being toughness, physicality, an edge and I think you can never have enough of that. I love physical play and guys that are willing to do the dirty work.”
DeMarcus Cousins added 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists off the bench and is 10-0 in games played with Denver. The Nuggets have signed him to multiple 10-day contracts but officially signed him for the rest of the season last week.
“I think what you’re seeing with him is him just being more and more comfortable,” Malone said. “Signing him for the rest of the year and knowing that hey they believe in me. I’m here for the long haul, for the rest of the season. I can just relax and play my game and he’s also getting really comfortable with that second unit.”
The Nuggets have won eight of their last nine games and still sit in sixth place in the Western Conference standings but now they have the same 36-25 record as the Dallas Mavericks and have a chance to leap frog them for the No. 5 seed. Malone stressed the importance of being aware of the NBA standings and doing whatever it takes to make sure his players are in the best position to succeed.
“I do look at the standings constantly,” Malone said. “I want to see where we’re at. I want to check the landscape of the NBA, what is going on ahead of us, what is going on behind us but ultimately it’s about us being the best team that we can be. I challenged our guys going into the break to finish strong and we did that. We went 5-1. I challenged them coming out of the break to have a great sense of urgency, not to wait to attack and now I believe we’re 3-0 coming out of the break.”
Denver is playing some of its best basketball of the season and still haven’t had Jamal Murray on the floor. Michael Porter Jr has been out since early November but it is reported that he will make a return at some point in March. Despite all of the adversity, the Nuggets are clicking on both ends of the floor and playing at high level.
“I think we’re just clicking as a team,” Bryn Forbes said. “Defensively we’ve made some mistakes like the other night we weren’t great with the turnovers but we made up for it on the defensive end in different areas so we haven’t been playing nearly perfect and I don’t think we’re at our best basketball. Not even close. But I think we’re all locked in and we’re all on the same page and still making mistakes but overcoming those.”
Forbes finished the night with 17 points, connecting on 5 of 6 shots from long range. As a team, the Nuggets went 51% from the field and 32% from beyond the arc while holding the Trail Blazers to just 37% from the field and 17% from long range. Nikola Jokic only had eight points on an efficient 3-5 shooting but added 18 rebounds and 11 assists.
Denver took as much as a 20-point lead after going on a 12-4 run midway through the third quarter. Gordon led the way with seven of his 14 points. The Blazers put together a 7-0 run to cut their deficit to 13 but the Nuggets closed out the quarter on a 10-5 run with Cousins hitting a pull up jumper at the buzzer. Denver took an 88-70 lead.
Forbes hit back-to-back triples to ignite a 12-2 Denver run to open the fourth quarter. Portland called a timeout to regroup but Forbes knocked down another 3-pointer to give the Nuggets a 101-74 lead. Denver kept its foot on the gas without Jokic and the starting crew to outscore Portland 38-22 to win it 124-92.
The Nuggets now have two full days off before their next game which is against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday. They will play their next four games at home.