PORTLAND, Ore. — It was a “welcome back, LaMarcus Aldridge” Saturday night at the Moda Center and the Portland Trail Blazers celebrated with a 102-96 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
Aldridge, who had missed the previous five games with a groin strain, scored 16 points, grabbed seven rebounds and played 30 minutes as the Blazers (41-18) completed a 4-0 sweep in their season series with the Nuggets.
“My timing was a little off, but it felt good to be back out there playing with the guys,” said Portland’s All-Star forward, who entered the game with season averages of 23.9 points and 11.4 rebounds. “I was a little tired, but my body felt good, my conditioning felt good.”
Aldridge’s presence opened things up for his teammates at the offensive end.
“You bring back a 24 and 12 guy, it changes everything,” Portland forward Nicolas Batum said. “We got more shots all over the court. It was big for us.”
Center Robin Lopez scored a game-high 18 points and had nine rebounds, guard Damian Lillard added 17 points and Batum contributed nine points, a career-high 16 rebounds and six assists for the Blazers (41-18), who won their fifth straight game.
“It would have been nice if Nic could have gotten a triple-double,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve said it in the last year and a half — he does a little bit of everything, depending on the game.”
Forward Kenneth Faried collected 16 points and 10 rebounds and guard Evan Fournier had 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Nuggets (25-33), who lost for the 10th time in 11 outings. Even so, it was a step up from their previous performance — a 112-89 loss at home to the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night.
“A lot better effort from our team tonight,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said. “The guys came out and competed.”
Portland was 23 of 24 from the foul line. Denver was 23 of 35.
“That was the difference in the game,” Shaw said. “You lose by six points and you miss 12 free throws.”
Denver cut an eight-point halftime deficit to 60-55 four minutes into the third quarter. The Trail Blazers outscored the Nuggets 13-5 during the next three minutes to increase the margin to 73-60. The Blazers took an 84-73 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Nuggets scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to close the margin to 84-78. Portland’s edge was 88-82 when guard Will Barton’s 3-pointer started an 8-2 run that made it 96-84.
Denver kept coming, getting to within 100-93 on a Faried free throw with 1:25 remaining. Forward Wilson Chandler sank 1 of 2 at the line with 49.7 seconds left to snip the margin to 100-94.
The Nuggets had two possessions to get closer but failed to score. Aldridge made two at the line to seal the deal for the Blazers with 12.4 seconds to play.
Portland shot 52.4 percent from the field in the first quarter in spurting to a 32-24 lead. Guard Randy Foye, who finished with 16 points, kept the Nuggets in it by knocking down three 3-pointers and scoring nine points in the quarter.
It was 35-26 before Denver began to close the gap, drawing to within 43-38. Portland settled for a 56-48 advantage at the half, with Lopez (12 points, six rebounds) and Lillard (11 points) leading the way. Faried and Foye each had 10 points at the break.
NOTES: In Portland’s 100-95 win at Denver on Tuesday, the Nuggets outrebounded the Blazers 64-41, grabbing 27 off the offensive glass. On Saturday night, the Blazers won the board battle 52-40, with the Nuggets getting only 10 at the offensive end. … Portland won despite making 5 of 27 shots from 3-point range. The Blazers entered the game fourth in the NBA in 3-point percentage at .382. … Portland reserve C Meyers Leonard, who had missed the previous five games with a sprained ankle, had eight points and five rebounds in 16 minutes. Still missing from the Blazers’ frontcourt are reserves C Joel Freeland and F Thomas Robinson, both out with knee injuries. … Denver welcomed back F Wilson Chandler (knee), who started and had 14 points, and F Darrell Arthur (hip), who contributed 12 points off the bench on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. … Denver coach Brian Shaw — who turns 48 on March 22 and retired as a player in 2003 — suited up and went through drills with his players during Saturday’s shootaround. “Every once in awhile I try to do that to get the guys more engaged,” Shaw said. “They seem to want to go harder when they go against me.”
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