Blazers ready for Nuggets to hit more shots in Game 3 Friday night

Associated Press
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PORTLAND (AP) — The Denver Nuggets might not be as good of a group of shooters as they showed in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series with the Portland Trail Blazers, but they’re certainly not as bad as they were in Game 2.

The Nuggets were misfiring from every distance as they fell 97-90 to the visiting Trail Blazers on Wednesday night, squaring the series at 1-1 heading into Friday night’s Game 3 in Portland.

Denver shot 50.6 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from 3-point range in a 121-113 victory in Game 1. Shooting at the same hoops on Wednesday, however, the Nuggets hit 34.7 percent (34-for-98) from the field, 20.7 percent from 3-point range (6-for-29) and 61.5 percent from the foul line (16-for-26).

“We couldn’t make a damn shot,” head coach Mike Malone told reporters after the game.

“Those are great shots that we want to get,” said guard Gary Harris, who was 4-for-12 from the field and 0-for-5 from beyond the arc. “We just didn’t knock them down. But we have a next-play mentality. We just have to keep shooting them, and those are going to fall next game.

“We just have to be better. We have to come out more physical, be ready to play in Portland, and those shots will fall.”

In the Nuggets’ four playoff losses this season — including three to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round — they are shooting 30 percent from 3-point range. Malone would like to see a different tactic from his players should they have similar perimeter shooting woes on Friday.

“If you’re not making shots, maybe attack the basket, maybe get to the rim, maybe get to the foul line,” he said. “We were getting such open looks that I understand our players shooting the shots. But when you’re not having a night when you making shots consistently, you have to attack instead of settle.”

The Nuggets rallied from a 17-point third-quarter deficit to draw within five points inside the game’s final minute of Game 2.

“I do love the fact that our guys competed at such a high level,” Malone said. “Now, the challenge is doing that for as close to 48 (minutes) as possible.”

Portland coach Terry Stotts liked his players’ defense on Denver center Nikola Jokic, who was held to 16 points on 7-for-17 shooting. Stotts wasn’t as happy with the Nuggets’ 23 offensive rebounds, including 14 in a frantic fourth quarter.

“We were very fortunate that we came away not hurt as badly as we could have been,” Stotts said. “(Paul) Millsap and Jokic were playing volleyball with it. They’re both excellent offensive rebounders, and (the Nuggets) are a top-three offensive rebounding team.

“We have to make sure they don’t have those opportunities next game.”

Portland center Enes Kanter said the Blazers feel “confident” going into Game 3.

“We feel more comfortable out there, especially on defense,” said Kanter, who contributed 15 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in Game 2. “We helped each other very well, were communicating and trusting each other.”

The Blazers have gained home-court advantage, as they play host to the Nuggets in the next two games.

“Our goal is to just take it one game at a time and protect our home floor,” said Portland point guard Damian Lillard, who was held to season playoff lows in points (14) and assists (four) in Game 2. “We have to be better, because we know (the Nuggets) are going to come back better.”

Nuggets guard Jamal Murray is undergoing treatment on his right thigh after aggravating an injury — originally sustained against the Spurs — during Game 2. Murray, who missed the final 53 seconds on Wednesday, is expected to try to play Friday.