How Derrick Jones Jr. rose to the occasion vs. Nuggets after this key challenge from Robert Covington

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How Jones Jr. rose to the occasion vs. Nuggets after this key challenge from Covington originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest

The Trail Blazers are currently looking at a three-game losing skid. 

But despite forcing the Nuggets to turn the ball over just one time, an NBA record by the way, the Blazers still almost came away with a victory in the Mile High City.  

It was Derrick Jones Jr.'s overall performance that helped Portalnd keep pace with Denver Tuesday. 

Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic carried Denver with 41 points, but it was his partner in crime Jamal Murray who helped the Nuggets get over the hump with his fourth quarter performance.

Murray scored 18 of his 24 points in the fourth.

And if it wasn’t for Murray’s scoring flurry, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts felt pretty good about his team’s overall defense.

Coach Stotts mentioned postgame that he thought the second half defense was “relatively solid other than Murray having his fourth quarter.”

In the final minutes in Denver, Jones Jr. breathed new life into Portland’s defense.

He blocked Murray’s jumper with 2:23 remaining when the Blazers were down 99-92 and then followed that up with a block on Jokic's lay-up attempt with 56.7 seconds to go, yet the Blazers were down six at that point.

Even before Jones Jr.’s block party, he was bringing the energy on that end all night.

And it sounds like the Blazers have Robert Covington to thank. 

Me and Roco – we try to push each other on the defensive end, just to be the best defenders on the floor that night.

Derrick Jones Jr. said postgame

“He had said something to me,” Jones said of his pregame conversation with Covington. “He had pointed to me and said -- ‘first team,’ he told me he wanted me to play defense at a first team caliber level, so I just had to step it up and just do what I do.”

Jones Jr. and Gary Trent Jr. were the only two starters for Portland to finish in the positive plus-minus.

And Coach Stotts took note.

“I thought he gave a great effort defensively,” Stotts said. “You look at his plus-minus, we were plus with him on the court. He made a couple of threes. I thought he had a good all around game.”

With Jones Jr. also scoring a season-high 18 points in the loss, his chemistry with Lillard and his instincts along the baseline also can’t be overlooked.

When Lillard’s shot wasn’t falling or when the Nuggets sent two defenders at him, he found his teammates and found success.

Jones Jr. greatly benefited from Lillard’s dimes.

The 24-year old forward has shown his versatility on the baseline and is clearly starting to find a rhythm with Lillard.

Me and Dame kind of said, ‘forget the feeling out period’ -- it’s just whenever I see an opening on the baseline, I’m going to take it.

Derrick Jones Jr.

The Blazers starting small forward added, “it’s just me reading the defense and seeing how they react to Dame when he’s coming off the ball screens and getting downhill.”

Lillard agreed and gave the credit to DJJ.

“Offensively, just his athleticism and his instincts playing off the ball and along the baseline really help.”

Portland’s point guard also explained how Jones Jr. is always communicating with him during timeouts, telling Lillard that he’s going to be working the baseline.

“So it’s always on my mind whenever I’m surrounded by guys I can count on him cutting.”

Lillard finished with 13 assists in the loss and despite the result not being what the Blazers wanted heading into Denver, they took away the RoCo to DJJ challenge of earning all first-team defense along with more baseline success.

The Blazers will need that and more as they now get set to face the Lakers Friday night at Staples Center.