Pistons looking to sweep Trail Blazers again

The Detroit Pistons have never swept the season series from the Portland Trail Blazers in back-to-back years. Courtesy of a double-overtime victory in Portland in January, the Pistons can finally make that happen on Tuesday. at The Palace of Aubrun Hills.

The series dates back to the 1970-71 season, and the Blazers hold a 61-52 overall advantage. However, Detroit has won the last three meetings, including a 125-124 thriller on Jan. 7. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the second overtime session proved to be the game-winner.

“There were so many back and forths,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said afterward. “There were times where we had leads, and we should’ve been able to close it out in regulation but didn’t. Then we got behind in both overtimes, but fought back. That’s a tough game to be on the losing end of, I’ll tell you that.”

The Trail Blazers (24-34) have lost a lot of close ones this season, which is why they will head to The Palace 10 games under .500. Portland has lost four of its last five outings, including a 112-106 defeat at Toronto on Sunday.

“It came down to the last couple of minutes and they made the plays,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts told The Oregonian.

Point guard Damian Lillard’s 28 points, eight assists and six rebounds went to waste as the Raptors outscored the Blazers 30-26 in the fourth quarter. Lillard is frustrated by the team’s inability to close out games after going 44-38 last season and reaching the second round of the playoffs.

“It was just that one or two things down the stretch we were on edge about,” Lillard said to The Oregonian about the team’s focus last season. “Not to say we aren’t on edge about it this year, but we’re not making those plays happen as often as we did.”

The Blazers look a little bit different from the last time they faced the Pistons. Jusuf Nurkic has replaced Mason Plumlee at center. Nurkic was part of the trade package the Blazers received from the Nuggets this month for Plumlee, whom they feared they couldn’t re-sign. Nurkic has averaged 11 points and eight rebounds in his first three games with Portland.

Detroit point guard Reggie Jackson has enjoyed some of his best games against the Blazers. He averaged 35 points in the Pistons’ two victories over Portland last season and racked up a season-high 31 in the last meeting.

Jackson has otherwise had a subpar season and was the subject of numerous trade rumors prior to last Thursday’s deadline. Jackson had 17 points and six assists in the Pistons’ 104-98 loss to Boston on Sunday but took heat for hoisting up a 3-point attempt in the final minute. Detroit (28-31) led by one at the time and the Celtics took the lead on their ensuing possession after Jackson’s misfire with plenty of time on the shot clock.

“I saw (Celtics guard) Marcus Smart peeking left to right, looking for a screen, about two, three steps off me,” Jackson said. “I was within a step of the 3-point line, a shot I shoot many times, a shot I’m comfortable shooting. That’s sports. Sometimes you make it. Sometimes you don’t.”

Poor free throw shooting also doomed the Pistons. They were 16 for 35 from the line, including a 1-for-11 performance by center Andre Drummond. That forced Van Gundy to bench Drummond in the late going.

“The thing is, obviously Andre was 1 for 11, but we were 14 for 24 with the other guys,” he said. “The other guys shot 62 percent, at key times in the game they are up there missing free throws.”