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Nuggets-Trail Blazers Preview
By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- After coming up clutch over the weekend, Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers find themselves on the verge of their first four-game winning streak in two seasons.
Keeping things going, though, could prove difficult with LaMarcus Aldridge sidelined.
Hoping to overcome Aldridge's absence, the Trail Blazers try for an eighth home win in nine matchups against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night.
After scoring a season-high 29 points in a 98-90 win over San Antonio last Thursday, Lillard made a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds left to lift Portland past New Orleans 95-94 on Sunday.
"I was excited to win the game," Lillard said. "We had a big lead, we let them fight back and tie the game up and we were looking at overtime, so I was kind of relieved and excited at the same time."
Unfortunately for the Blazers (11-12), Sunday's victory came at a cost. Aldridge, averaging a team-high 21.0 points and 8.0 rebounds, rolled his ankle and has been ruled out for this game.
"Obviously that's a lot of minutes, a lot of points and rebounds and our best player," coach Terry Stotts told the team's official website. "Different players are going to have to do different things, but we've done it before when other players have sat out ... everybody's got to ratchet it up a little bit to find a way to win a game.
"When you have injuries as you're going to have in the NBA season it creates opportunities for other guys to play. I've got confidence in everybody on our roster."
Portland could also be without Wesley Matthews again. Averaging 15.5 points, Matthews returned Sunday following a two-game absence due to a hip flexor but lasted less than four minutes.
While playing without Aldridge and Matthews isn't ideal, the Blazers have proven plenty formidable on their own court of late, taking six of seven - including three in a row while holding opponents to an average of 86.0 points. That shouldn't come as much of a surprise to a Denver team that's been limited to 42.1 percent shooting during a five-game skid at the Rose Garden.
"Everybody's going to have to step up (Thursday)," said Blazers swingman Nicolas Batum, who had 11 points, a career-high 10 assists, five rebounds, five steals and five blocks against the Hornets. "We have to step up. ... We play at a high tempo because we know Denver loves to run."
The Nuggets (14-12) carry plenty of momentum into Thursday's showdown, having averaged 111.0 points while shooting 49.8 percent during a three-game run.
The Nuggets posted their highest scoring output of the season in Sunday's 122-97 win at Sacramento, then beat San Antonio 112-106 two nights later.
Danilo Gallinari scored a season-high 28 points Tuesday to lead six players in double figures for Denver.
"With the team we have we can have a different protagonist every game," Gallinari told the NBA's official website. "Tonight it was me, maybe the next night it will be someone else. I was happy to knock down those shots."
Kenneth Faried also came up big despite being sick, recording 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Updated December 19, 2012