Portland blows three chances at the win

DENVER (AP) -- The Portland Trail Blazers got the matchup they
wanted. The Denver Nuggets got the break they needed.

Nene Hilario had 20 points and 11 rebounds and Juwan Howard
added 19 points as the Denver Nuggets held on to beat the Portland
Trail Blazers 82-81 Friday night for their second two-game winning
streak of the season.

With Denver leading by one in the closing seconds, Portland got
the ball in the post to Rasheed Wallace. He was being guarded by
rookie Junior Harrington, who's seven inches shorter and has six
years less experience, but Wallace somehow missed.

Dale Davis got the rebound, but couldn't get the ball over the
rim on consecutive shots.

"Everyone was jumping around and I was down there screaming for
help," Harrington said. "I was wondering when somebody was going
to get me. I knew it was a matter of time."

Rodney White hit two free throws to put Denver up 80-78 with
1:10 left, then Portland's Derek Anderson missed a tough shot
inside. Hilario followed with a dunk that made it 82-78 with 37
seconds left, but Ruben Patterson cut the lead to one with a
three-point play.

Denver got the ball to Vincent Yarbrough on the other end, but
the rookie turned it over with 17 seconds left after he jumped in
the air and had nowhere to go.

Portland then called a timeout to set up a final play.

"We got the shot we wanted, but it didn't go in like we
wanted," Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said.

The Nuggets improved to 3-2 in January after going 1-13 in
December. Denver has won consecutive games for the first time since
taking three straight from Nov. 22-26.

The youthful Nuggets did it with big contributions from their
youngest players.

Hilario, a rookie was all over the place, with 11 points, six
rebounds, three assists and three steals by halftime. Yarbrough was
5-for-9 for 10 points and had five assists.

White, in his second season, finished with 16 points, including
a thunderous dunk over Zach Randolph along the baseline to start
the fourth.

Harrington, another rookie, provided a steadying influence with
Chris Whitney and John Crotty out with injuries. He had one
turnover in 37 minutes.

The Nuggets even got a contribution from Nikoloz Tskitishvili,
who has seemed lost most of the season. He had just four points,
but played under control and had a nice pass to set up a jumper in
the corner by Harrington.

"The young guys are feeling comfortable and confident," Denver
coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "They are growing, it will take some
time. It is a work in progress."

Portland entered the game as one of the league's hottest teams,
winning 11 of its previous 13 games, but continued to struggled
against the Nuggets.

Denver has won just nine games this season, but two have been
against the Trail Blazers. The Nuggets have won four of five
overall against Portland and six straight at home.

"They are one of those teams that has nothing to lose," said
Portland's Bonzi Wells, who had 15 points in the first half, but
none in the second. "They are pretty much out of the playoffs
before the season starts, so they can come out here and work on
things for next year."

Denver shot 50 percent in 86-76 win over Miami on Wednesday, and
kept it going early against Portland. The Nuggets hit seven of
their first 11 shots to take a 17-9 lead and were 19-of-38 in the
first half.

The Nuggets wound up shooting 44 percent overall, but had just
14 turnovers after averaging a league-high 19.8 entering the game.

"We are starting to get more balanced scoring," Bzdelik said.
"That's a good sign to have a balanced attack as opposed to a
month ago when we relied on one or two guys."

Portland was sloppy on offense at the start, turning the ball
over six times in the first four minutes. The Trail Blazers hit
five of eight during a 16-3 run in the first quarter, but wound up
shooting 35 percent overall and 4-for-15 from 3-point range.

Game notes
Portland C Arvydas Sabonis, who's been bothered by a sore
back, did not enter the game until early in the fourth quarter. He
had two points in three minutes. ... The Nuggets hope to have G
John Crotty back for Saturday night's game against Houston. He's
been out for a week with a sore Achilles' tendon. ... Denver has
won six straight over Portland at home, including twice this
season. ... Wallace finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.


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