The Denver Nuggets hope they have set aside a rough patch as they prepare to host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night.
A superb 13-3 start was followed by losses in five of six games. But Denver responded with a solid 114-99 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday in the opener of a five-game homestand.
The Nuggets (15-8) moved the ball well in making 18 of 36 3-point shots while also showing tenacity on the boards with a 48-35 rebounding advantage.
“After a very tough road trip and having lost three in a row, we needed to come home and find a way to win to feel better about ourselves,” Denver coach Michael Malone told reporters after Thursday’s victory. “To do it in front of a good team, a (Northwest) division rival, in front of a great crowd makes it that much better.”
Bench play was another huge asset for the Nuggets, who outscored the Portland reserves 46-9.
Backup forward Jerami Grant — a former Oklahoma City player — matched his season high of 20 points and made 5 of 6 3-point attempts to equal his career best in 3-point makes.
“He’s being aggressive,” Denver shooting guard Gary Harris told reporters. “He’s putting pressure on the defense. He’s knocking down shots, getting to the rim, getting fouled. He’s doing it all. He’s aggressive like that on the court.”
Oklahoma City (11-13) is 2-1 on a four-game road trip and hasn’t had recent success against the Nuggets.
The Thunder have dropped four straight visits in Denver and lost the last six overall matchups. Last season, they went 0-4 against the Nuggets with the losing margins all between seven and 11 points.
Oklahoma City had its season-long three-game winning streak ended when it fell 94-93 to the Sacramento Kings on Thursday.
Sacramento’s Bogdan Bogdanovic drained the winning 3-pointer but the Thunder could also point to letting an 11-point fourth-quarter lead slip away over the final seven minutes.
“You can’t blow leads like that,” Oklahoma City forward Abdel Nader said afterward. “We didn’t execute to the standard we wanted to at the end the game and it gave them a chance to hit shots and come back.”
Nader drained a career-best five 3-pointers while scoring 15 points against the Kings. It is the latest sign of development for a 26-year-old player who scored a career-best 23 points against Portland followed by 19 versus New Orleans in back-to-back games to end November.
“It’s cool to see Abdel Nader, to how he’s growing. He’s shooting it with confidence,” Thunder point guard Chris Paul said. “He just hoops. ‘Dule’ takes whatever responsibility there is — defensively, offensively, runs, plays the right way.”
Backup guard Dennis Schroder scored a team-best 17 against Sacramento to continue his strong play. Schroder is averaging 21.4 points over the past seven games, including scoring 25 or more three times.
Paul had just eight points on 3-of-9 shooting against the Kings and missed the potential game-winning shot with 1.6 seconds left. The subpar outing came after Paul averaged 22 points in the club’s three straight wins.
Meanwhile, Denver star center Nikola Jokic has three double-doubles in the past four games after having 20 points and 11 rebounds against Portland. Jokic is averaging 22.3 points, 9.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists during the stretch.
Jokic averaged 24.8 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists in the four wins over the Thunder last season.
Nuggets power forward Paul Millsap (quadriceps) is questionable after departing Thursday’s game.
–Field Level Media