Nuggets-Trail Blazers Preview

The Associated Press

The Portland Trail Blazers suffered a disappointing end to a challenging road trip after an impressive beginning.

Returning home to face the defensively averse Denver Nuggets should provide the league's highest-scoring team a good opportunity to bounce back.

Portland looks to avoid losing a third straight game for the first time this season as it faces Denver on Thursday night.

The Trail Blazers (31-11) started their trip - four games against teams among the Western Conference's top seven - with wins in San Antonio and Dallas before falling in Houston and Oklahoma City on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. It marked their third set of back-to-back losses in just over three weeks after not suffering consecutive defeats through their first 29 games.

Tuesday's 105-97 loss to the Thunder also cost them first place in the Northwest Division. Portland lead for a majority of the contest but gave up 11 of Kevin Durant's 46 points in the final 3:23.

"We're not happy. Last year we were happy coming off a road trip at .500. We're not that team any more," said Wesley Matthews, who scored 21 and is averaging a career-best 16.7 points. "We didn't come out with the right energy and the right mentality against Houston and they were ready for us. We came out with the right mentality early in this game and KD had a hell of a fourth quarter, so it's bitter."

Durant's big performance was likely more a credit to him than a matter of poor defense from Portland. The Thunder forward came in having scored at least 30 in seven straight contests.

"When the basket is an ocean, you can't really do much about it," Matthews said. "He's been on a roll."

LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 29 points and 16 rebounds but struggled in the fourth quarter, going 1 of 8 from the field. Damian Lillard had 14 points - more than seven below his average - and is just 6 of 24 from 3-point range over his last four contests. He's among the league leaders at 43.0 percent from beyond the arc.

Lillard was part of a 3-point shooting barrage in a 113-98 win at Denver on Nov. 1 in the teams' lone matchup this season. Portland, which averages an NBA-best 109.3 points, was 14 of 22 from deep, with Lillard going 3 of 4. Nicolas Batum was 5 of 8 with 21 points while Matthews was 4 of 4 and scored 21 of his own. Denver hit 36.4 percent from the field, its second-worst shooting performance of the season.

A five-game winning streak provided some optimism for the Nuggets (20-20), but they've since dropped three of four and two straight. Tuesday brought another setback with Danilo Gallinari undergoing a second operation on his left knee, ending any hope that he would be able to play this season after tearing his ACL in April.

The Nuggets miss the 16.2 points per game Gallinari provided last season, but defense has been their downfall lately. Their last four opponents have averaged 117.0 points while shooting 49.1 percent.

Denver let Phoenix shoot 50.5 percent in a 117-103 road loss Sunday.

"We score enough points," said Ty Lawson, who had 17 points and 14 assists for his fourth straight double-double and ninth in 10 games. "No defense."

Lawson is averaging 19.9 points on 51.2 percent shooting in his last eight games versus Portland.

Aldridge has averaged 25.2 points in his past five matchups with Denver.

The Trail Blazers had won six straight home meetings prior to a 111-109 loss Feb. 27.

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