Trail Blazers-Nets Preview
The Portland Trail Blazers have an opportunity to build a bit of momentum before beginning a season-high homestand. The Brooklyn Nets are just hoping their first home win in over a month helps get the ball rolling.
While the Trail Blazers try to take advantage of a pivotal stretch starting Friday night in Brooklyn, the Nets seek their first winning streak since mid-December.
Portland (17-24) opened a five-game homestand with losses against Memphis, the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State, but the Trail Blazers beat Oklahoma City 115-110 on Sunday and Utah 99-85 on Wednesday.
They now play at the bottom two teams in the Eastern Conference, Brooklyn (11-28) and Philadelphia, and at under-.500 Washington before playing seven straight at home against underwhelming competition.
In all, eight of Portland's next 10 opponents have losing records.
The Trail Blazers sit in the ninth spot in the West at the midpoint of their season, and a push to get into the top eight rests largely on Damian Lillard's shoulders.
Without LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum for the first time in his career, Lillard's scoring average has risen from last season's 21.0 to 24.7 while his assists per game are up from 6.2 to 7.1. Lillard joins Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook as the only players ranked in the top 10 in scoring and assists.
The point guard missed the first seven games of his career Dec. 21-Jan. 3 with plantar fasciitis on his left foot, but he has come back strong. In his last three games, Lillard is averaging 30.7 points, 9.7 assists and 5.7 rebounds while making half of his 36 3-pointers.
He finished three boards shy of his first career triple-double while scoring 21 points and dishing out 10 assists in 29 minutes against the Jazz, even while sitting out the final quarter. It was his eighth double-double in 33 games, more than in any of his first four years.
Lillard scored 13 points in the third quarter, moving his average in that period to 7.9 - tied for third-best in the league.
"At the start of the game, people are locked in on the scouting report," Lillard said. "At the start of that third, the focus isn't as much there as it is at the start of the game and neither is the energy. So those are the times where I've tried to pick my spots and try to get aggressive."
Portland had won three straight in this series before the Nets took the last meeting 106-96 on April 6 in Brooklyn despite Lillard's 36 points.
Brooklyn snapped a five-game losing streak with Wednesday's 110-104 win over New York. The victory also ended a 10-game skid at home and was the first in two games under interim coach Tony Brown, who took over when Lionel Hollins was fired and general manager Billy King was reassigned Sunday.
Brook Lopez made 8 of 13 shots and finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while Thaddeus Young chipped in 19 points and 11 rebounds.
''Games like this, it's going to help turn our fan base around,'' Brown said. ''If we continue to play in this kind of fashion, we'll fill the seats - but we've got to show them first. It'll take time, but (Wednesday) was a good start.''