Lillard, McCollum together again as Blazers host Pistons (Jan 7, 2017)
PORTLAND, Ore. — Damian Lillard won’t cure all the ills that plagued the Portland Trail Blazers over the past month, but the All-Star point guard’s return after missing five games with a sprained left ankle in the Trail Blazers’ 118-109 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers Thursday night was a welcome sight for his coaches and teammates.
“It’s always good to have your best player out there,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said after Lillard contributed 21 points and 10 assists to the win over the Lakers.
After playing 36 minutes against the Lakers, Lillard said he will be good to go Sunday night, when the Blazers (16-22) play host to the Detroit Pistons (17-21) at Moda Center.
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The game was originally scheduled for Saturday but was postponed due to severe weather conditions in Portland that included dangerous levels of snow and ice in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington.
Lillard missed seven games with an Achilles tendon injury last season.
“I didn’t prepare as well as I needed to come back, and it took a few games to get my rhythm and wind back,” he said. “This time, I did a lot of conditioning and individual workouts leading up to tonight. I felt good out there.”
C.J. McCollum, who had gone for 43 and 35 points in the last two games while running the point in Lillard’s absence, moved back to his normal shooting guard position and collected 27 points and seven assists in Thursday’s win.
“Makes the game much easier when Dame’s on the floor,” said McCollum, who was 11 for 21 from the field but only 3 for 11 from 3-point range. “The defense can’t key in on me as much when he’s out there.”
Lillard’s plus/minus rating against the Lakers was plus-28, far better than that of any other player in the game.
“We were really good when he was on the floor,” center Mason Plumlee said. “It was good to have him back.”
The Pistons arrive in Portland off Thursday’s 115-114 victory over Charlotte, in which the Hornets roared back with a 44-point fourth quarter to nearly steal a win. Marco Bellinelli’s 3-point bank shot was just a split second after the buzzer as Detroit nearly lost despite leading by 19 points with 10 minutes left.
“We played a great three quarters,” Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said afterward. “I’ll talk about that.”
Van Gundy also talked about Boban Marjanovic, who came out of nowhere with a season high in points (15) and a career high in rebounds (19) in 22 minutes off the bench. The 7-3, 290-pound Serbian — given an opportunity with backup center Aron Baynes out with an ankle sprain and starter Andre Drummond in foul trouble — totaled seven points and seven rebounds in the previous seven games. Marjanovic had only 35 points and 26 rebounds all season entering Thursday.
“A great, great, great effort, on the boards and everything else,” Van Gundy said. “The biggest reason that game got close was I took him out for a rest. I should have left him in there, as tired as he was. Probably the game would have been over. He was tremendous.”