DENVER -- Ty Lawson's return to the lineup was just what the ailing Denver Nuggets needed.
There's more relief right around the corner, too.
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"This win will be very important for us," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "I think we gained some confidence tonight and hopefully we can build on it by finding a way to win on the road."
Lawson missed the previous two games with a sprained left ankle and quickly made an impact. He scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, including a key 3-pointer late to hold off a surge by Portland.
"I wanted to come out strong and aggressive and show everybody I wasn't hurt," he said. "When I attack, other people get open."
The Nuggets might get even healthier in the next week with the expected returns of Danilo Gallinari and Nene. Gallinari has missed a month with a severely sprained left ankle and Nene has missed 13 games this season with a heel injury and a left calf strain.
Reserve guard Rudy Fernandez could return from a strained lower back as early as Friday.
"We're still hanging in with teams like Oklahoma City, the Clippers, all the top teams and we have three starters hurt," Lawson said. "Once we get them back, we're going to be a team everybody's scared of."
Lawson return was enough against the Trail Blazers, who have lost nine straight and 16 of 17 in Denver. Their only victory in that span came on Dec. 16, 2007.
They didn't pose much of a threat Wednesday despite 21 points from Jamal Crawford and 20 points and nine rebounds by LaMarcus Aldridge. Their offense wasn't enough to offset Denver's 54-36 edge in rebounding, including a 21-11 advantage of the offensive glass.
"We weren't able to keep their bigs off the boards tonight and enabled those guys to get a lot of second-chance points," Blazers center Marcus Camby said. "Rebounding is all about effort."
The Blazers trailed by double digits for most of the game, but cut it to six three times in the final 7:20. Wesley Matthew's hit a 3-pointer from the corner to trim Denver's lead to 91-85, the closest the Blazers had been since early in the second quarter.
The teams traded baskets before Lawson's 3-pointer with 4:09 left made it 101-91.
"When we put him back in in the fourth quarter he made a lot of big shots, he made a big 3," Karl said.
The Nuggets never trailed and led by 19 in the third quarter before the Blazers got within nine on Crawford's 3-pointer with 3:45 left in the period. Denver settled down to lead by 14 heading into the fourth.
Portland trailed by five early in the second when Denver went on a 13-2 run to take a 44-28 lead midway through the period.
Crawford got hot and scored 13 points over the next 3:33 to help the Blazers cut the deficit to 53-45 late in the second. Denver closed the half strong, scoring the last nine points to take a 17-point lead into intermission.
"We just got outworked. Right from the start, they outworked us, pounded us on the boards, pounded us in the paint," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "They wanted it more. Mentally, we've got to get stronger on the road, playing games like this."
Faried set the tone early, scoring the first four points and hustling for loose balls and rebounds. His first four rebounds were on offense and his steal and windmill dunk gave Denver the lead for good only 1:17 into the game.
"That Faried kid was blocking shots and running down the court, getting layups, playing with a lot of energy and playing with a lot of passion," Camby said. "That's something we were lacking tonight."
|Ty Lawson soars to the hoop during the fourth quarter. He scores 18 points after a two-game absence due to an ankle injury. (US Presswire)|
|Denver (19-17) «||29||33||23||19||104|
|POR:J. Crawford 21 Pts
POR:L. Aldridge 9 Reb
POR:R. Felton 7 Ast
|DEN:T. Lawson 18 Pts
DEN:K. Koufos 11 Reb
DEN:T. Lawson 9 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|L. Aldridge, PF||42||7-16||6-6||9||0||2||20|
|J. Crawford, SG||36||8-15||0-0||5||5||0||21|
|G. Wallace, SF||35||2-7||0-0||3||5||1||4|
|N. Batum, SF||33||4-13||0-0||7||3||1||9|
|M. Camby, C||16||5-5||0-0||4||0||1||10|
|W. Matthews, SG||28||4-11||2-3||3||2||4||11|
|R. Felton, PG||24||3-8||0-0||2||7||3||6|
|E. Williams, SG||11||4-10||0-0||2||1||1||10|
|C. Johnson, PF||10||1-2||2-2||1||0||2||4|
|C. Smith, PF||5||0-0||0-0||0||0||3||0|
|K. Thomas, PF||1||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|G. Oden, C||Did Not Play|
|N. Smith, PG||Did Not Play|
|L. Babbitt, SF||Did Not Play|
|A. Johnson, PG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|T. Lawson, PG||38||8-15||0-0||5||9||1||18|
|A. Afflalo, SG||36||4-13||3-6||1||6||1||12|
|C. Brewer, SF||26||5-14||0-1||4||0||1||11|
|T. Mozgov, C||23||6-10||2-3||9||1||3||14|
|K. Faried, SF||17||6-6||1-2||10||0||2||13|
|A. Harrington, PF||31||5-11||2-2||10||2||0||13|
|A. Miller, PG||29||1-4||2-2||3||5||3||4|
|K. Koufos, C||25||4-8||0-0||11||0||3||8|
|J. Hamilton, SG||14||5-10||0-0||1||3||2||11|
|C. Andersen, PF||Did Not Play|
|Nene, C||Did Not Play|
|R. Fernandez, SG||Did Not Play|
|D. Gallinari, SF||Did Not Play|
|J. Stone, PG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|