DENVER (AP) — The Trail Blazers took Denver's best shot — and the Nuggets took way too many errant shots thanks to Portland's stifling defense.
Damian Lillard made up for the absence of fellow All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge by scoring 31 points in the Trail Blazers' 100-95 win over the Nuggets on Tuesday night, including a pair of free throws and a layup in the closing minutes to help hold off Denver's fourth-quarter rally.
"It was a difficult game," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "We did a lot of good things, made some big plays defensively to win it at the end. The offense kind of shut down in the fourth quarter but our defense stayed solid, and to get a win like this in Denver is something we needed to do."
The Nuggets trimmed an 18-point deficit to two but couldn't catch the Blazers. Denver made just 37 of 103 shots, including 27 of 64 in the paint, and couldn't even find the rim at the line, missing 9 of 26 free throws.
Lillard scored 12 points in the third quarter when it looked as if to the Blazers were headed for a blowout win, but he saved his biggest shots for late in the fourth.
Lillard's clutch shooting helped Portland overcome a terrific performance by Denver's J.J. Hickson, who pulled down a career-high 25 rebounds, including 15 on the offensive side. Hickson led the Nuggets to a 64-41 advantage on the glass, appearing as a reserve power forward after starting 52 games at center this season.
"Twenty-five boards is exciting, but the win would have been more exciting," Hickson said.
The Blazers again went with a smaller lineup with Aldridge missing his fourth straight game with a strained left groin, and Dorell Wright helped make up for Aldridge's team-high 23.9 points and 11.4 rebounds by giving Denver another long-range shooter to defend.
As Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said before tip-off when talking about Aldridge's absence, "There's a big sigh of relief that you don't have to deal with that, but at the same time it just creates a different type of problem: They're one of the best — if not the best — 3-point shooting teams in the league. They're the best free-throw shooting team in the league. They're the highest-scoring team in the league."
Six Blazers scored in double figures, including Nicolas Batum's 16 points.