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Blazers grind out win over Nuggets

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DENVER -- An easy night turned into a grinder, but the Portland Trail Blazers will take what they can get.

All that matters is they won again without their leading scorer.

Guard Damian Lillard tallied 31 points and nine assists, center Robin Lopez had 12 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high seven blocks and Portland beat the Denver Nuggets 100-95 on Tuesday night.

Forward Nicolas Batum had 16 points, including five crucial points down the stretch to help the Blazers extend their win streak to three without forward LaMarcus Aldridge.

"We were able to find a way to win," Lillard said. "The game was kind of going our way, we were executing and flying around. We kind of relaxed because I guess we thought it was easy and they found a way back into the game."

Forward J.J. Hickson had a career-high 25 rebounds, including an NBA season-high 15 offensive boards, to go with 16 points. It was a big difference from Sunday when he scored just one point against Sacramento.

"I felt like I was due for an OK game," Hickson said. "Twenty-five boards is exciting but the win would have been more exciting."

Guard Randy Foye scored 17 points for Denver, which has dropped three in a row and eight of its last nine.

Lillard has stepped up his game in the absence of Aldridge. The point guard is averaging 30 points and eight assists in four games without the team's leading scorer.

Lillard was on target Tuesday, leading the Blazers to their third win over the Nuggets this season after nearly blowing an 18-point lead.

"Obviously I've had to be a little more aggressive and up my game with (Aldridge) out, but we've had guys stepping up consistently," Lillard said. "Everybody's raised their level of play with him out."

The Blazers lost another big man when forward Thomas Robinson left the game in the third quarter with a left leg injury. The team did not specify the nature of the injury but Robinson had his left knee wrapped in ice in the locker room after the game.

Denver shuffled its lineup in hopes of getting a spark. The Nuggets are mired in their worst stretch since losing 11 of 12 just prior to George Karl taking over in January 2005, so current coach Brian Shaw moved 7-foot-1 center Timofey Mozgov into the starting lineup in place of the 6-9 Hickson.

Instead of bemoaning the move, Hickson had a career night against his former team.

"I told J.J., 'Don't let coming off the bench affect you just come out and respond by playing hard,'" Foye said. "He bounced back and worked hard. He did a great job and was a big part on the comeback."

The move did help both players put up better numbers -- Mozgov had 14 points -- but it did not result in a win. The Nuggets allowed 100 points for the 18th time in the last 20 games despite a strong defensive fourth quarter in which they held the Blazers to 4 of 21 shooting in the period.

Portland missed 13 of their first 15 shots to start the fourth, allowing Denver to rally. Twice they got with two points after trailing by nearly 20.

Four Portland free throws made it a 90-86 but forward Kenneth Faried hit two straight shots in the lane to make it 90-88.

"It was a difficult game. We did a lot of good things, made some big plays defensively to win it at the end," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "The offense kind of shut down in the fourth quarter but our defense was solid. To get a win like this in Denver is something we need to do."

Lopez had four of his blocks in the fourth to help keep the Blazers in front.

"I wasn't out there chasing stats, I was out there playing basketball," he said.

Even with Aldridge in street clothes, Denver could not stop the Blazers for the first three quarters.

After guard Aaron Brooks' jumper made it a 52-47, Portland scored 11 of the next 13 points to go up by 14. When Denver got within 10, Lillard took over.

Lillard hit a pair of driving, spinning layups to get going, and then he nailed consecutive 3-pointers to put the Nuggets on their heels. When he took a seat late in the third quarter, he scored 12 points in a four-minute span and gave the Blazers a 79-61 lead.

"We built a good lead, and for three quarters it was really good," Stotts said.

NOTES: Portland F LaMarcus Aldridge (strained left groin) missed his fourth straight game. He leads the team in scoring (23.9 points) and rebounding (11.4) this season. ... Nuggets G Ty Lawson missed his seventh straight game with a fractured rib on his left side. ... Portland F Thomas Robinson became the only player in the NBA this season to have 18 rebounds, seven offensive, coming off the bench. He accomplished the feat Sunday against Minnesota. ... Nuggets F/C J.J. Hickson came off the bench for just the fourth time in 56 games this season. ... The Nuggets will honor the 1993-94 team at halftime of their game March 17. That team became the first No. 8 seed to upset a No. 1 seed in NBA playoff history when it rallied to beat Seattle in five games.
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