Pacers-Trail Blazers Preview
When Portland beat Indiana for the second time in 10 days last December, it became one of four teams to start the season with a winning percentage of .750 or greater and put the finishing touches on the season-worst eight-game losing streak of a team in pieces.
When the Pacers visit Portland on Thursday night, roles will be reversed with rejuvenated Indiana seeking a seventh straight win and a share of first place, while the Trail Blazers will try to avoid a three-game skid and the Northwest Division cellar.
Portland improved to 18-6 and dropped the Pacers to 7-17 on Dec. 13 with a 95-85 win in Indiana following an 88-82 home win Dec. 4. The Blazers have won four of the last five meetings and the previous six at home, but this Pacers team is leaving all that in the dust as they make their way up the West Coast.
Indiana (12-5), playing the third of a four-game trip, can match its best winning streak from last season after beginning the swing with a Staples Center sweep following Wednesday's 103-91 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. The Pacers are also after their first five-game road streak since closing 2011-12 with one.
Paul George had 31 points and 10 rebounds for what was actually his worst offensive game in his last four. He's averaging 35.8 points and shooting 50.6 percent in that time, despite going 9 of 23 against the Clippers.
"This is definitely the best stretch I've had," he said. "I really put a lot of work in this summer to be ready night in and night out."
A shooting night like that is holding up just fine with what's happening on the other end. The Pacers have held their last three opponents to 37.0 percent, and their only losses following a 0-3 start were by four points at Cleveland and one at Chicago. Their scoring differential of 10.6 in that span trails only Golden State.
"We know what we're doing with this group," coach Frank Vogel told the team's official website. "We are still finding our way a little bit. We are just playing with confidence."
The Trail Blazers (7-12) suffered a sweep in a back-to-back set to start the week, falling 115-112 in overtime to Dallas on Tuesday at home a night after a 102-87 loss at the Clippers. The latest defeat came after leading 96-89 with 1:40 remaining.
"That's a tough loss to swallow. This is one we have to get," said Meyers Leonard after scoring a season-high 23 points. "We should have had this win flat-out tonight, however we didn't. Now we need to study the film and find out what we can do better, especially in late-game situations."
After starting 4-2 with a new-look lineup, the reality of being without LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews has set in over a 3-10 span.
Damian Lillard had 25 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds against the Mavericks, giving him five double-doubles after never topping seven in 82 games over each of his first three seasons.
However, he was 10 of 24 and is averaging 20.4 shots per game - easily a career high and more than everyone in the league other than James Harden. The result is the worst shooting percentage of his career (41.9) and he's also turning the ball over more (3.5).
To be fair, he's not getting much help from anyone else the Blazers rely on. No. 2 scorer C.J. McCollum has been held to 11.5 points on 8-of-36 shooting in the last two games, while No. 3 scorer Al-Farouq Aminu is at 4.3 and 6 of 32 in his last four.