|Nuggets would like to pay back Blazers, end skid|
Early in the 2016-17 season, Denver led Portland by two points in the final seconds and was one defensive stop from an important victory.
Instead of stopping the Trail Blazers, a defensive lapse led to a typing layup from Damian Lillard, and Portland went on to beat Denver in overtime.
That win was the difference between the Trail Blazers and Nuggets getting into the postseason as Portland edged Denver by one win for a playoff berth.
While that game took place 14 months ago, that loss still stings for many Denver players, most of whom were on the roster for that game.
The Nuggets are also focused on a more recent problem that has coach Michael Malone searching for answers heading into Monday's game against the Trail Blazers.
Denver is in the throes of a recent slide that includes home losses to the lowly Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns.
"I have to make some changes," Malone said after the 108-100 loss to the Suns. "We are 2-6 in our last eight games. It's not just being 2-6, but how we are losing. Right now, I do not like our basketball team one bit."
The Nuggets (23-23) are outside the Western Conference playoff picture after losing six of their last eight. Malone juggled his starting lineup Friday, inserting Trey Lyles at power forward for Mason Plumlee. That allowed Nikola Jokic to move to his natural position at center, and he had 14 points and 17 rebounds but struggled shooting the ball like the rest of the team.
The Nuggets are looking to get back to the kind of basketball they played in Portland on Dec 22. They controlled that game and won 102-85, which should give the Trail Blazers (25-21) motivation to get one back against their Northwest Division rivals.
There's extra incentive for Portland center Jusuf Nurkic. The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Trail Blazers last season when they came to the conclusion that Jokic was their future at center. Nurkic has played well in two games against his former team, but this will be his first game in Denver since last year's trade.
"That's a game I look forward to," Nurkic told The Oregonian. "It's a regular game here but there not, so I'm super excited."
Nurkic was in line to be Denver's big man of the future when he was acquired in a draft-day trade with Chicago in 2014. In that same draft, however, the Nuggets took Jokic in the second round and in his first training camp that fall he showed he belonged.
He played well when Nurkic was sidelined for half of the 2015-16 season, and when it became apparent the two didn't mesh on the court at the same time, Denver opted for Jokic and traded Nurkic.
Nurkic said he has no hard feelings and isn't worried about the reception he'll get Monday night.
"I don't care," he told The Oregonian. "I had an up-and-down career there, but I have friends and family there. At the end of the day, it's part of the job."