DENVER (AP) Nikola Jokic just missed out on his third straight triple-double, finishing with 28 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, and the Denver Nuggets spoiled Chauncey Billups return with a 124-95 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night.
Billups, a Denver native who had two playing stints with the Nuggets, lost his head coaching debut in his hometown without star Damian Lillard.
Lillard was out with what the team called a lower abdominal tendinopathy. It is an injury the guard has dealt with before and aggravated at the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. Lillard played Wednesday and Friday night before Billups kept him out of Sunday night’s game.
”You know Dame doesn’t like to sit any game, any practice, anything, so I kind of had to force him to do this,” Billups said before the game. ”It’s too early in the season to be playing hurt every single night. You need a break, take a break. If you don’t think you need one I might have to give you one.”
CJ McCollum led Portland with 21 points, and Anfernee Simons had 16 starting in place of Lillard. Portland fell to 1-7 on the road.
Six Nuggets players scored in double figures. Rookie Bones Hyland scored 18 points to establish a career high for the fourth straight game.
Jokic came out with 1:24 left in the third quarter and Denver leading 88-77 and sat out the fourth. The Blazers got within nine but Denver went on a 21-4 run at the end of the third and start of the fourth
The Nuggets led by 15 early and never trailed in winning their fifth straight, all at home. They were up 67-53 at halftime and went up by 18 early in the third.
Nuggets: G Will Barton did not play due to lower back tightness. He went to the locker room before the opening tip and did not return. … Coach Michael Malone had no update on the status of F Michael Porter Jr. Porter has been out since leaving the Nov. 8 game against Miami with lower back soreness.
Trail Blazers: Host Toronto on Monday night.
Nuggets: At Dallas on Monday night.