Nuggets shoot for fifth straight win vs. Trail Blazers

PORTLAND, Oregon — The Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets will be battling for position in the crowded NBA Western Conference race when they collide Friday night at Moda Center.

Denver is 14-7 and has won four in a row, the last a rousing 117-85 pounding of the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center. It was the Nuggets’ most one-sided victory ever in the rivalry.

“They’re a top team in the West, a team that is playing well,” said Portland point guard Damian Lillard after the Trail Blazers’ 115-112 win over the Orlando Magic Wednesday night, which snapped a three-game losing streak. “But they’re coming to play us on our court. We’re feeling good about ourselves now. It’s going to be a good game, a good test for us. It’s a chance for us to get a quality win.”

The Nuggets are taking pride in their defense, especially after holding the Lakers to 85 points on 39.1 percent shooting, including 5 for 35 from 3-point range. Denver is third in the NBA in defensive rating and has held opponents under 100 points nine times this season, tied for most in the league.

“It’s our identity,” Denver’s fourth-year coach, Michael Malone, told the media. “Let’s be honest. Our first three years, to be in the bottom five of defense every year, for me, it’s embarrassing. I have pride. We all have pride.”

“This defense is really taking over, and it’s going to help us down the stretch to get us to the playoffs,” said reserve guard Malik Beasley, who scored a career-high 20 points against the Lakers.

Denver hopes to regain the services of guard Gary Harris (ankle), but guards Will Barton and Isaiah Thomas are still recovering from hip injuries and will not be available.

The Blazers (13-8) are coming off a victory in which Lillard scored 41 points and set a franchise record for made 3-pointers in a game with 10, in 15 attempts. Lillard, who scored 23 points in the third quarter on 7-for-9 3-point shooting, came into the game shooting 33.5 percent from beyond the arc, well below his career 37.4 figure.

“I’ve been struggling shooting from 3,” he said. “I shoot a lot of them after practice, sometimes before practice. I knew eventually I’d get hot and start making them. I was able to get into a good rhythm tonight.”

Especially in that unforgettable third quarter.

“We rely on Dame,” center/forward Meyers Leonard said. “When he gets it going, it’s like that rim expands. As soon as somebody like that gets a couple of clean looks and they go in, it’s going to be a tough night (for the opponent). When he gets in a rhythm, it’s fun to watch.”

“You know he’s in that zone where there’s not thinking, there’s just doing,” guard Nik Stauskas said. “That’s a beautiful thing to see. Dame’s stroke is effortless. When he gets it going, it’s flowing off his hand, he has that perfect rhythm going, and he can pull up from just about anywhere and get it to drop. It was fun to see that tonight.”