PORTLAND, Ore. — The Trail Blazers had flipped an early double-digit deficit into a one-point second-quarter advantage.
And then Nikola Jokic went to work.
The Nuggets’ big man took a nifty top-of-the-key pass from Jamal Murray and finished through contact for an old-fashioned 3-point play. He dunked over Jusuf Nurkic. He connected on a 3-pointer from the top and a jumper on one foot.
That stretch of eight consecutive points captured Jokic’s best performance since his return from a sprained ankle, compiling 27 points and eight rebounds to propel Denver to a 102-85 victory Friday night at the Moda Center.
Jokic’s impressive outing was also an important counterpunch on Nurkic, his former teammate who had dominated their individual matchup since Nurkic was traded to Portland (16-16) at last season’s deadline.
Nurkic had dropped 33 points and 15 rebounds in a Trail Blazers win over Denver (17-15) late last season, a loss that all but knocked the Nuggets out of the playoffs. He compiled 17 points and five rebounds Nov. 13. Jokic, meanwhile, had scored 10 total points in his previous two games against the Trail Blazers, prompting Nuggets coach Michael Malone to insist during his pregame media availability that Jokic become more assertive against Nurkic. Nurkic finished with 10 points and one rebound Friday.
The Nuggets’ win evens the season series with the Trail Blazers, who were playing without star point guard Damian Lillard due to a hamstring injury. Denver next finishes its pre-Christmas back-to-back set Saturday at defending champion Golden State.
Jokic helped Denver stretch its lead to 19 points in the third quarter when he drilled a right-wing 3 over Nurkic and converted a crafty finish inside. And when the Trail Blazers sliced the Nuggets’ lead to 80-70 early in the fourth quarter, Jokic followed a Wilson Chandler old-fashioned three-point play with a layup to help kick-start an 11-0 run to put the game away.
Chandler finished with a season-high 21 points and 11 rebounds. Gary Harris, who returned after missing Wednesday’s loss against Minnesota with an elbow contusion, added 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting. The Nuggets shot 49.4 percent from the floor, after scoring just 82 points in their first meeting against Portland in their second-lowest total of the season. Portland’s 85 points was the third-lowest point total scored by a Nuggets’ opponent this season.
Without Lillard, fellow standout guard CJ McCollum scored 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting.