Damian Lillard prepares for surgery as Trail Blazers visit Nuggets

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January 10, 2022; Portland, Oregon, United States; Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington (33) celebrates with guard Ben McLemore (23) and guard Dennis Smith Jr. (10) after a game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Moda Center. The Trail Blazers won the game 114-108. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers knew they would be without star guard Damian Lillard on a six-game road trip, but now the situation is more serious.

Lillard is set to have abdominal surgery on Thursday, the same day the Trail Blazers open the long excursion against the Denver Nuggets.

Lillard, 31, has missed the last five games but has struggled all season. He is said to have compounded the injury during the Tokyo Olympics while playing for the USA team this summer.

Lillard is expected to be reassessed in six to eight weeks and while the Trail Blazers will be without a six-time All-Star, they won’t receive much sympathy from the Nuggets.

Jamal Murray (knee) has missed the entire season and Michael Porter Jr. (back) has been out for much of the season. So every time the Nuggets have a chance to win a game, it gets magnified.

Denver missed an opportunity – and a 25-point lead – by losing to the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night, and after Game Coach Michael Malone tore his team’s effort apart. Malone will see how hard-hitting his criticisms have been when the Nuggets take on Portland.

The Trail Blazers – three years before reaching the Western Conference final – struggled in coach Chauncey Billups’ first season at the helm. Portland has won back-to-back games after losing six of seven and now comes a long road trip.

The Blazers just finished a 3-2 home game with a victory over Brooklyn on Monday night. The match was originally scheduled for December 23, but COVID-19 issues have postponed the match.

Portland beat the Nets despite the absence of Lillard and three other key players: CJ McCollum (collapsed lung), Norman Powell (COVID-19 protocol) and Larry Nance Jr. (right knee).

McCollum will miss his 17th consecutive game on Thursday. Billups said McCollum will not join the team on the road trip until his wife gives birth to the couple’s first child.

The absence of the top two players allowed others to shine. Against Brooklyn on Monday, Robert Covington helped lead the way with 21 points and played a solid defense against Kevin Durant.

Covington was a starter, but moved on to a reserve role when Nance became the starter.

“My mindset has never changed and my approach has never changed,” said Covington. “Just because I wasn’t starting out didn’t mean everything was going to be different. I was always going to do the same thing I did. The only thing was that me and Larry were going to take rocker positions. “

Thursday will be the teams’ third meeting, with the Nuggets winning in Denver on November 14 and Portland at home on November 23.

The Nuggets have been inconsistent throughout the season, racking up some solid road wins but also losing due to poor post-half play. They held the Clippers to 28 points in the first half on Tuesday and led 59-34 at one point, but were outnumbered the rest of the way.

“Losses like this are going to keep me awake for weeks,” said Malone. “I think the NBA player today – they’re worried about where they’re going to go out tonight. We’ve had a lot of guys dodging the ball in the big moments.

Nikola Jokic and Aaron Gordon, who had 32 of 44 points in the second half, did not run away at the time. Jokic missed a 3 point in the end that would have won it, but the team knew it should never have come down to it.

“It’s our season right now,” Jokic said. “Sometimes we are good, sometimes we are bad.”

–Field level media

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