While the Golden State Warriors were relishing some time without a bulls-eye on their backs, the Portland Trail Blazers likely would have rather kept playing through the All-Star break.
Among the NBA's hottest teams at the stoppage, the Trail Blazers will have a motivated Damian Lillard when they continue their playoff push and attempt to end the visiting Warriors' 11-game winning streak Friday night.
Golden State enjoyed an eight-day reprieve from the constant media attention given to its 42-game regular-season home winning streak and quest to break the Chicago Bulls' league record of 72 wins. The Warriors remain on pace to exceed that mark by amassing a 48-4 record at the break, best in league history.
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Their three best players still kept busy during the hiatus, with Klay Thompson edging Stephen Curry to win Saturday's 3-point contest and joining the reigning MVP and Draymond Green in Sunday's All-Star Game. Curry scored 26 points in the Western Conference's 196-173 victory.
“It's such a high stress environment everywhere we go and we play every regular season game, so to be able to just enjoy the entire night is something you want to be able to take in,” Curry said.
Lillard spent the break recording rap music after being omitted from the West roster despite All-Star caliber numbers, ones that have helped Portland (27-27) to win 12 of 15 since a 128-108 home loss to the Warriors on Jan. 8.
After delivering 33 points in an overtime win at Memphis on Feb. 8, Lillard posted 31 with nine assists in a 116-103 victory over Houston two days later in the Blazers' final outing before the break and eighth win in nine games.
Though Lillard has been the catalyst, he's far from the lone reason why Portland currently holds a playoff spot in what was expected to be a rebuilding season. A greater commitment on the defensive end also has aided the surge, as has increased production from several complementary players.
The Blazers have held their last eight opponents to 96.8 points per game and 43.4 percent shooting, the second and fourth-lowest marks in the league over that span. They've limited teams to 28.1 percent from 3-point range during their present three-game win streak.
''We just embraced the challenge,'' Lillard said. ''You've got to give credit to all the work we put in.''
Keeping down the Warriors, the NBA leaders in scoring and 3-point percentage, is another matter. And that particularly pertains to Curry, who has averaged 35.3 points and shot 50 percent from beyond the arc to lead Golden State to six wins in the series' past seven matchups.
Curry averaged 34.5 points over the Warriors' final four games before the break, including 51 in a win at Washington on Feb. 3. Thompson, who scored 36 and went 7 of 10 from 3 in last month's win in Portland, is averaging 27.1 points over his past seven.
Portland will be counting on continued contributions from players like Maurice Harkless and Gerald Henderson, both of whom have succeeded in increased roles of late. Harkless had season highs of 19 points and 13 rebounds against Houston, and Henderson is averaging 13.3 points off the bench in his last six.
The Warriors were expectedly quiet at Thursday's trade deadline, while Portland acquired Brian Roberts from Miami to serve as Lillard's backup. The Blazers also obtained Anderson Varejao from Cleveland as part of a three-team deal but promptly waived the veteran center.