The Denver Nuggets have hit a sudden roadblock and will aim to halt a season-worst, three-game losing streak when they visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.
The Nuggets won two-thirds of their first 21 games. But December began with road setbacks to the Atlanta Hawks and New OrleansPelicans before Denver sustained a 116-115 home loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.
Bones Hyland was one of the many distraught Nuggets after the loss to Dallas.
"We're frustrated. We know we're giving up so many games right now," Hyland said afterward. "We're losing games that we're supposed to be winning, and we know we're not giving a sense of urgency to defend and go out there and compete every night."
Hyland scored 20 points in 30 minutes against the Mavericks. But he was in the doghouse two nights earlier when he played just five minutes against New Orleans before being benched by coach Michael Malone.
Malone said he addressed some issues with Hyland.
"He's such an important part of that second unit," Malone said of Hyland. "... I spoke with him (Tuesday) morning for a while. Just need him to go out there and play his game, but just play with great effort, energy, discipline on both ends of the floor."
Aaron Gordon scored a team-best 27 for the Nuggets against Dallas while two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic tallied 19.
Jamal Murray had just 11 points on 2-of-11 shooting and is 8-for-28 from the field over the past two games.
Portland has won its past two games, coming on a back-to-back that began with a 116-111 road win against the Utah Jazz on Saturday and followed with a 116-100 home victory against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.
Six-time All-Star guard Damian Lillard returned from a seven-game absence due to a right calf injury to contribute 21 points and six assists in 32 minutes in the win over the Pacers.
Lillard has been sidelined twice this season due to right calf injuries -- he has played in just 12 games -- and was pleased with how well things went during his return.
"We picked up a big win and I just wanted to encourage the team and bring that energy to get us on a win streak," Lillard said afterward. "I felt normal, I felt good. I think this time it wasn't as bad as the first time."
Lillard said he didn't want his return to affect the performances of guard Anfernee Simons or forward Jerami Grant. For good reason.
Simons has scored 20 or more points in 15 of his past 17 games, including topping 35 points in three of five games prior to a 22-point outing against the Pacers in Lillard's return. The fifth-year Simons is averaging a career-best 24.7 points this season.
Grant scored 28 points against Indiana and has topped 30 points in three of his past six games. He is averaging a career-high 23.0 points per game.
Portland's consecutive victories came after the club lost seven of eight games. Lillard completely missed five of the losses, and that causes coach Chauncey Billups to have good feelings about his club nearly 30 percent of the way through the regular season.
"I think we're in a good spot," Billups said. "We went through a brutal part of our schedule. And don't get me wrong, we've still got some tough stretches. But I think that was one of the toughest, if not the toughest, for us."
Portland routed the visiting Nuggets 135-110 on Oct. 24 when it outscored Denver 80-49 in the second half. Lillard scored 31 and Simons added 29.
--Field Level Media