Bucks-Trail Blazers Preview
Portland's success is usually attributed to strong scoring from Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but it's the Trail Blazers' defense that's turning heads of late.
The Blazers go for their longest home winning streak in nearly a year Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Lillard and McCollum are the team's top two scorers with career highs of 24.2 and 20.7 points per game, respectively. Although they're both averaging below those marks over the last three games - Lillard at 19.3 and McCollum at 18.7 - Portland (23-26) has yielded 93.7 per game, which is 8.6 below its season mark.
They scored 21 apiece in a 96-93 win over Minnesota on Sunday that was the Blazers' season-best fourth straight and eighth in the last 10 games.
"It's a great sign for us," reserve forward Ed Davis said. "There's going to be games where Damian and C.J. are not shooting great from the field. We have to rely on the defense then.
"We can beat pretty much anybody without playing any defense just because they're going to hit tough shots, hit a lot of 3s, get a lot of easy buckets, they're going to get fouled. It's those games where they don't have it going that we have to lock in on defense."
That didn't happen in a 90-88 loss at Milwaukee (20-30) on Dec. 7. Lillard had 23 points and McCollum scored 17, but the Blazers squandered a four-point lead in the final 17 seconds.
"It's just a matter of us taking care of business," Lillard said. "Over the last couple of games we've defended better, we've shared the ball better. We've played more complete games.
"We're showing signs of growth."
The Blazers are trying to win five in a row at home for the first time since Feb. 25-March 13. They've won seven of their last nine there against Milwaukee, including a 104-97 victory on Dec. 17, 2014, in which Lillard scored 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting and went 4 of 7 from long range.
The Bucks have dropped five of their last six games, including four straight on the road after falling 111-104 at Sacramento on Monday. They've surrendered an average of 108.0 points and 39.5 percent shooting from behind the arc during the slump.
"We gotta get better at switching and understand who is shooting the ball," coach Jason Kidd said. "We put ourselves in position to win a game on the road, and we just didn't make a couple plays coming down late on both ends."
Greg Monroe can't be blamed for Milwaukee's recent struggles. The center is averaging 22.2 points over the last six games and has totaled 48 while hitting 18 of 30 from the field in the previous two.
Monroe was quieter with 16 points and 12 rebounds at home against the Blazers in December, but he made a decisive layup with 6 seconds left to put the Bucks up for good.
Khris Middleton finished with 14 points while missing 9 of 13 from the field, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range. The guard enters this matchup with 23 total points in two games, going 8 for 31 from the floor and 2 for 10 from beyond the arc.