Confident Nuggets meet identity-seeking Trail Blazers

The red-hot Denver Nuggets will look for a season-best sixth consecutive victory when they visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night.

Denver has won seven of its past eight games after finishing a sweep of a home-and-home with the Sacramento Kings on Saturday night. The Nuggets are a season-high 10 games over .500.

“We’re in a good place. We’re 7-1 in our last eight games with some really impressive wins — on the road at Toronto, on the road at Golden State,” Denver coach Michael Malone told reporters after Saturday’s 115-110 home win. “We’re not satisfied, by any means.”

Star big man Nikola Jokic is looking like a possible repeat league MVP winner, and he posted his 16th triple-double of the season to tie his career high with 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Jokic has 73 career triple-doubles, five behind sixth-place Wilt Chamberlain.

But it wasn’t the four-time All-Star who made the biggest shot against the Kings. It was Monte Morris, who buried the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 29.4 seconds remaining.

Morris said he knew what Sacramento’s method of defense would be based on conversations he has with fellow NBA players.

“I’m cool with a lot of guys in the NBA, and I always ask them after games or if we go out to dinner — just to keep me out of the paint and try to force me to make the play instead of getting the ball to (Jokic),” Morris said after a 21-point effort in which he was 5 of 6 from 3-point range.

“I work on that shot a lot, and just having confidence to take it and make it for my team is big.”

Aaron Gordon also had a big outing against the Kings with 23 points and nine rebounds.

Denver is 2-1 against the Trail Blazers this season entering the final regular-season meeting.

The Trail Blazers showed life with four consecutive wins before being pummeled 132-95 by the visiting Golden State Warriors on Thursday night.

The Warriors scored at least 30 points in every period while embarrassing host Portland.

“They kind of took off on us there; they had 39 points in the second quarter,” Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “That really hurt us, and we could never really recover.”

Also hurting Portland is the constant upheaval the squad has faced this season.

Big man Jusuf Nurkic was the last member of the season’s initial starting five still in the lineup before being ruled out for at least four weeks due to plantar fasciitis. Star guard Damian Lillard has been out for nearly two months due to an abdominal injury, while CJ McCollum, Norman Powell and Robert Covington were traded.

The starting five against Golden State lined up this way: Drew Eubanks, Justise Winslow, CJ Elleby, Josh Hart and Anfernee Simons.

While the Trail Blazers are still in the hunt for a Western Conference play-in berth, Billups said identifying key cogs for the future is part of the blueprint for the remainder of this season.

“I feel like we’ve been playing some amazing basketball on both sides of the floor,” Billups said. “I think we’re playing really fast, we’re playing with a lot of heart and energy, and I want to keep that up, as we as a staff are trying to build an identity here of just how we play here.

“It don’t really matter who’s on the floor — we have to continue to do that. For me, I just want to keep teaching that.”

–Field Level Media

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