With Carmelo Anthony expected back from a brief suspension, the Nuggets look to avoid their third straight loss and increase a slim division lead as they meet the surging Trail Blazers on Thursday night at the Pepsi Center.
Two weeks ago, Denver (39-22) held a 3 1/2-game lead over Portland in the Northwest. Things were going well for the Nuggets until Feb. 20, when a 116-99 loss at Chicago began a 2-5 stretch.
Portland (38-32), meanwhile, has won three in a row and six of its last eight to move within one-half game of Denver heading into the teams’ third meeting of the season. Each has won on their home court.
“It’s going to be nice,” Portland forward Travis Outlaw said of the showdown. “I just wish we didn’t have to get them on a back-to-back, but we’ll be ready.”
While the Trail Blazers have played better of late, the Nuggets should be confident at home with Anthony set to return after serving a one-game suspension from coach George Karl for refusing to come out of Denver’s 100-94 loss at Indiana on Sunday.
Having Anthony (21.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg) should certainly help the Nuggets, who have won 16 of their last 18 at home against Portland, including a 97-89 victory on Dec. 22.
Denver is 22-7 at home, while Portland is 13-17 on the road.
Coming off a 100-95 loss at Detroit on Tuesday, Denver faces back-to-back tests against the Trail Blazers and at Utah on Friday. The Jazz - winners of nine in a row - trail the Nuggets by one game.
“That’s a tough swing because those teams are right behind us,” said Chauncey Billups, who had a season-high 34 points against his former team Tuesday and is averaging 29.0 in his last four games overall.
Over their last seven games, the Nuggets are averaging 5.5 points fewer than their 102.8 season average. They also are allowing five more points than the 100.4 they are giving up in 2008-09.
While Nene added 20 points and J.R. Smith 16 on Tuesday, Denver could have used Anthony as no other Nugget scored more than six.
Anthony - averaging 26.1 points in 19 games against Portland - missed the December home-and-home set against the Trail Blazers with a sore elbow. Despite his recent run-in with Karl, Anthony said there are no ill feelings between the two.
“He’s got to do his job. He’s got to coach. We’ve got to play. I mean, at all times during the 82-game season, everybody’s not going to always agree, and that was just one of them times I didn’t agree,” said Anthony, an All-Star.
Karl hopes he doesn’t need to take Anthony out much against Portland, which is coming off a 107-105 home win over Indiana on Wednesday.
Brandon Roy scored 28 points - including a pair of game-clinching free throws with 1.7 seconds left - for the Trail Blazers, who trailed by as many 14 in the second half.
Outlaw and LaMarcus Aldridge each added 21 points for Portland, which won despite allowing the Pacers to shoot 51.8 percent and giving up 100 points for the first time in eight games.
Roy is averaging 22.7 points this season, but was held to eight on 3-of-11 shooting in this season’s loss at Denver. The All-Star had 19 and six assists in Portland’s 101-92 win over the Nuggets at home the next night.