PORTLAND, Ore. — Two teams searching for a turn in momentum meet Monday night at Moda Center when the Atlanta Hawks (31-23) square off against the Portland Trail Blazers (23-31).
Atlanta has lost two of its last three games, including an excruciating 108-107 setback at Sacramento on Friday night in which Tim Hardaway felt he was fouled on an attempted game-winning shot just before the final horn.
Portland has dropped four of its last six outings, including a 120-111 defeat against Boston at home Thursday night.
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Both teams gave up huge leads. The Hawks were in front of the Kings by 22 points in the third quarter. The Blazers were on top of the Celtics by 17 points late in the second quarter.
Portland’s defense, a problem most of the season, has taken a step back of late. In the last nine games, six opponents have scored 108 points or more, and five have shot 47 percent or better from the field.
“In certain situations in the last few games, we’ve struggled defensively,” point guard Damian Lillard said. “All year, we’ve been saying we want to be more consistent at that end, to put together a complete game.
“The last few games, we’ve had moments in the game where we’ve fallen apart and gotten away from what makes us successful, and opponents are taking advantage of it.”
The Blazers will have a different look Monday night. On Sunday, they shipped center Mason Plumlee and a future second-round draft pick to Denver for 6-foot-11, 280-pound center Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round selection.
The native of Bosnia started 29 of the 45 games he played for the Nuggets this season alongside Nikola Jokic, averaging 8.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.8 blocked shots in 17.9 minutes a game. Nurkic is shooting .507 from the field and .496 from the free-throw line.
The Hawks have some defense to work on, too. They yielded a franchise-record 18 3-point baskets to Sacramento Friday night, including 10 in the second half.
The Kings “made shots down the stretch,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We let up midway through the third quarter. They got it down to 10 going into the fourth quarter, and that point it’s a ballgame.
“It’s hard to understand sometimes what’s going on (with the Hawks) out there on the court, but credit (the Kings). They made a lot of plays.”
Though Budenholzer and Hardaway were adamant he was fouled on the final play against the Kings, the NBA’s “Last Two Minutes” report concluded that Sacramento forward Matt Barnes made “incidental” contact with Hardaway on his final drive to the basket.
Regardless, the Hawks know they must do a better job of protecting a large lead.
“It’s the same stuff we’ve been talking about,” forward Paul Millsap said. “Trying to hold onto a 20-point lead on the road, against a team we should have put away … (the Kings) played their butts off. They hit some tough shots, but we should have done a better job of holding the lead.”