Aldridge was replaced in the starting lineup by 6-foot-11 Joel Freeland, who was making his first start with the Blazers. Freeland finished with two points and three rebounds in 15 minutes.
Matthews, who missed two games with a sore hip then tried to return against the Hornets but left after four minutes — returned with 20 points against Denver, including 10 in the first quarter.
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.
Lawson, Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer had 13 points each for the Nuggets.
"We had a chance even though we shot terrible," Brewer said. "It shows that we can still win when we shoot bad, but we have to shoot better."
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. ... It was Portland's sixth straight victory over the Nuggets at the Rose Garden. ... Portland hasn't won four straight games since March 2011. ... Babbitt's 14 points were a season high.
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