Pacers open busy week by hosting red-hot Blazers, Lillard
Damian Lillard didn’t take much of a break from the scoring prowess that helped his Portland Trail Blazers become one of the NBA’s hottest teams this month.
The Trail Blazers hope his unrest continues so they can keep climbing the Western Conference standings.
While looking to start a new streak of 30-point games, Lillard aims to help Portland start another lengthy run when it visits the Indiana Pacers on Sunday night.
The Blazers (31-28) avoided their first losing streak since early January by opening a six-game road trip with Saturday’s 103-95 victory at Chicago, their 12th win in 14 games.
Lillard made 12 of 26 shots for 31 points after a 23-point effort in Thursday’s 119-105 loss to Houston, which snapped his five-game run with at least 30 — the franchise’s longest streak with at least that many points since Geoff Petrie during the Blazers’ inaugural 1970-71 season.
Lillard was snubbed from the All-Star team for the first time since his 2012-13 rookie season earlier this month but has responded by averaging 33.8 points in five games since, including a career-high 51 in a win over league-leading Golden State on Feb. 19.
His personal spurt has helped Portland to the league’s second-best record since Jan. 23, shy of only the 13-1 Warriors, while climbing into a tie with Dallas for the West’s sixth seed.
Saturday’s victory was Portland’s fourth straight on the road and sixth in seven games there.
"Going on a six-game road trip, it’s easy to let that linger over and come out here (Saturday night) and not have a good performance," Lillard said. "We showed some true character."
The Trail Blazers are one of three teams with 600 made 3-pointers this season and had drained at least 10 in eight of nine games prior to Saturday. They matched a season low with five in Chicago, including an 0-for-4 showing by Lillard — just his fourth game this season without a make from deep.
Portland sank 18 of 36 shots from long range in a 123-111 home win over the Pacers on Dec. 3, the most 3-pointers ever made by an Indiana opponent. The Trail Blazers have won three straight in this series, including a win last season at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to snap a four-game skid there.
Indiana (31-27) had won five of seven before Friday’s 96-95 loss to Charlotte, when Kemba Walker’s shot with 2.4 seconds left wiped away Monta Ellis’ previous go-ahead bucket.
Walker and the Hornets bothered the Pacers with the pick-and-roll all game, taking advantage of dribble-drive matchups against Indiana’s bigs, something coach Frank Vogel expects plenty of against the Trail Blazers.
"They’ve got one of the best point guards in the world that obviously was a shock he wasn’t on the All-Star team," said Vogel of Lillard. "And C.J. McCollum’s not far behind. They’re both playing at a high level."
Lillard and McCollum combined to make only 13 of 35 shots but still combined for 47 points and 14 assists in Portland’s December victory. Paul George missed all nine of his 3-pointers and finished 4 of 17 from the floor for 11 points with five turnovers.
The Pacers play five games this week and follow Sunday’s contest with six of seven on the road, where they are 13-17.