FRUSTRATED NUGGETS LOOKING TO STOP THE SLIDES IN PORTLAND

The Denver Nuggets have encountered a sudden roadblock and will be looking to halt a three-game losing streak of the season when they visit the Portland Trail Blazers Thursday night.

The Nuggets won two-thirds of their first 21 games. But December began with setbacks for the Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Pelicans before Denver suffered a 116-115 home loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Bones Hyland was one of the many desperate nuggets after losing to Dallas.

“We’re frustrated. We know we’re giving up so many games right now,” Hyland said afterwards. “We’re losing games that we should be winning and we know we don’t give that sense of urgency to defend ourselves and go out and compete every night.”

Hyland scored 20 points in 30 minutes against the Mavericks. But he was in the doghouse two nights earlier, playing just five minutes against New Orleans before being benched by coach Michael Malone.

Malone said he addressed some issues with Hyland.

“He’s such an important part of this second unit,” Malone said of Hyland. “…I talked to him for a while (Tuesday) in the mornings. He just needs to go out there and play his game, but just play with great effort, energy and discipline on both ends of the floor.”

Aaron Gordon had a team-best 27 for the Nuggets against Dallas, while two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had 19.

Jamal Murray had just 11 points on 2-of-11 shooting and is 8-to-28 off the field in his last two games.

Portland has won its last two games and came on a back-to-back game that began with a 116-111 away win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday and followed with a 116-100 home win over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.

Six-time All-Star guard Damian Lillard returned after seven games with a right calf injury and contributed 21 points and six assists in 32 minutes in the win over the Pacers.

Lillard has been sidelined twice this season with right calf injuries – he has only played 12 games – and was pleased with how well things were going on his return.

“We got a big win and I just wanted to encourage the team and bring that energy to put us on a winning streak,” Lillard said afterwards. “I felt normal, I felt good. I think this time it wasn’t as bad as the first time.”

Lillard said he didn’t want his return to affect the performances of guard Anfernee Simons or forward Jerami Grant. For a good reason.

Simons has 20 or more points in 15 of his last 17 games, including 35 points in three of five games before a 22-point loss to the Pacers on Lillard’s return. Fifth-year Simons is averaging a career-best 24.7 points this season.

Grant scored 28 points against Indiana and has surpassed 30 points in three of his last six games. He averages a career-high 23.0 points per game.

Portland’s consecutive wins came after the club lost seven out of eight games. Lillard has missed five of those losses entirely and that leaves manager Chauncey Billups feeling good about his club for almost 30 per cent of the regular season.

“I think we’re in a good place,” Billups said. “We went through a brutal part of our schedule. And don’t get me wrong, we still have some tough sections. But I think that was one of the hardest, if not the hardest for us.”

Portland beat the visiting Nuggets 135-110 on Oct. 24 as they edged Denver 80-49 in the second half. Lillard scored 31 and Simons added 29.

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