AP Photo
December 31, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) While Damian Lillard rehabs a left foot injury, C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe are providing a lift for the Portland Trail Blazers.

McCollum scored 29 points, Crabbe had 20 and Portland beat the Denver Nuggets 110-103 on Wednesday night for their third consecutive victory.

''We look forward to having Damian back. It's cliche, but everybody has kind of picked up their game a little bit,'' Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

At the forefront is McCollum, who moved from shooting guard to the point in Lillard's absence. McCollum, who nearly got a triple double in Sunday's win over Sacramento, was 12-for-19 shooting against Denver.

McCollum said his role has changed into someone trying to get everyone to share the ball, while keeping a scorer's mentality.

''I like how he's scoring without necessarily forcing the issue. He's picking his spots well, he's running the team well,'' Stotts said. ''He's playing with a lot of composure and confidence, not only as a scorer, but as a point guard.''

Lillard missed his fifth straight game with left foot plantar fasciitis. Portland lost at Atlanta and New Orleans in the first two games with Lillard out, but then rebounded with victories against Cleveland, Sacramento and Denver for its first three-game win streak since early November.

Crabbe has started the past five games. He has scored at least 20 points in two of the three wins.

''It's what I've been waiting for since I got into the league. A lot of hard work is paying off,'' Crabbe said. ''We're out there moving the ball, executing and the game is just fun for us right now.''

Six Blazers scored in double figures against the Nuggets, including 14 points from Al-Farouq Aminu.

What Stotts admired most about Wednesday's win was that it didn't come easily. Portland struggled at times with rebounding and turnovers, but quickly regrouped.

''Every time something wasn't going right, we bounced back,'' Stotts said.

Will Barton, traded by Portland to Denver last season, led the Nuggets with 31 points, one off his career high. Barton hit four 3-pointers and made 12 of 22 shots from the field.

Denver has lost seven of eight. Gary Harris scored 19 points for the Nuggets.

''I told the guys after the game, I'm tired of saying, `I'm proud of you guys, you played hard, you competed, but we came up short.' That gets old after a while,'' Denver coach Michael Malone said. ''Obviously we need to see some wins. We need some payoff for the hard work.''

Portland trailed 27-26 after one quarter, but took control midway through the second quarter and led by as many as 16 points early in the fourth. Denver cut the deficit to 98-93 with 5:05 remaining after running off 11 consecutive points, but McCollum hit a 20-footer and Crabbe made a 3-pointer, and the Blazers had the lead back to 103-93.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Malone said F Danilo Gallinari (left ankle sprain) and C Jusuf Nurkic (left patellar tendon) could return for Saturday's game against Golden State. Gallinari has missed the past six games, while Nurkic hasn't played this season. G Emmanuel Mudiay (right ankle sprain) is still a week to 10 days away, Malone said. ... Denver has lost nine of its last 10 games to Portland. ... Barton has scored at least 10 points in 18 consecutive games.

Blazers: Reserve forward Ed Davis returned to the lineup after missing one game with a left ankle bone bruise. ... Lillard went through a pregame workout.

WELCOME BACK WILL

Barton, a 2012 second-round draft pick by Portland, was traded to Denver in February. The 6-foot-6 Barton has since become the Nuggets' leading scorer at 16.3 points per game, even though he comes off the bench.

Barton's improvement doesn't surprise Stotts, who often watched the former Blazer put on amazing performances during practice.

''I have to hand to Will. He's playing terrific. He's playing with confidence. Will has put in a lot of time. He's a gym rat, and it's showing,'' Stotts said.

NEXT UP

Nuggets: Visit Golden State on Saturday.

Blazers: Visit Utah on Thursday.

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