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Blazers get it done in Lillard (and McCollum) Time


TRIBUNE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR - CJ McCollum matched backcourt mate Damian Lillard's 34 points Tuesday night as the Trail Blazers toppled the Brooklyn Nets at Moda Center.The Brooklyn Nets had stormed back from a 19-point third-quarter deficit to take a 96-93 lead with six minutes to play. Brook Lopez was wreaking havoc in the middle, the lowly Nets were gaining confidence, and Moda Center denizens were growing restless in their seats.

Then the stars came out for the Trail Blazers.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined to score 18 of Portland’s 19 points the rest of the way in a 112-104 victory Tuesday night.

It was the sixth straight win and 11th in 12 games for the streaking Blazers (30-27), who moved into a tie with Dallas for sixth place in the Western Conference. It wouldn’t have happened if not for the gunnery of their backcourt pair, who each bombed in 34 points on a night when none of their teammates scored more than 10.

Lillard and McCollum, already on their way to outstanding games, were even more demonstrative with the Nets leading and the game on the line.

“At that point, you have to go win the game,” Lillard said. “They made a push and took the lead. At that point, everything is out the window. Players gotta go win it; players gotta play. And we did that.”

Lillard — who was a personal-record 14 for 14 from the foul line — scored 15 of his points in the fourth quarter.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team win games,” he said. “And once again tonight, it was necessary.”

McCollum, meanwhile, stoked the fire early with 13 first-quarter points and had 21 at the half. He hit some big shots in the late going, too, scoring nine points on 4-for-4 shooting in the final period.

“It was fun to watch,” Lillard said. “A lot of times, I’d kick him the ball ahead, go to the opposite wing and catch myself watching the things he can do, how crafty he is with the ball, the tough shots he can knock down.

“The best part for me is, at the stretch at the end of the game, I didn’t feel I had to keep the ball. I have a lot of confidence in him, too.”

The Blazers almost always count on their guard tandem for a bulk of their offense. On Tuesday night, with Lopez bulling for a season-high 36 points and 10 rebounds and his supporting cast gathering confidence down the stretch, the local side needed their backcourt ballers even more than normal.

Against the Nets, Lillard and McCollum were Steph Curry/Klay Thompson-like.

“They have to be among the top five, maybe top three backcourts,” Lopez said of the Blazers’ perimeter duo. “On a given night, they can be the best in the league.”

Said Portland coach Terry Stotts: “Sixty-eight points in the backcourt — that goes a long way.”

Opposing defenses can’t focus on just one.

“If I’m a handful for a team and (McCollum) is, too, it balances out, and we take pressure off each other,” Lillard observed. “Tonight, it was really working.”

McCollum repaid the compliment to his backcourt mate, and noted Lillard is still dealing with the after-effects of a plantar fasciitis injury that caused him to miss seven games in late December and early January.

“He took big shots; he made big shots,” McCollum said. “That’s what we need each and every night. We need him to perform at a high level. He has been doing that.

“He is playing at an elite level right now. We need him to sustain that up until April or May. He is still battling the foot stuff. It doesn’t just go away. He has done a great job of taking care of his body and figuring out how to balance reps vs. rest.”

Portland had the best of it early, jumping to a 34-21 lead after one quarter and a 63-49 advantage at the half. It was 68-49 early in the third quarter, and the Blazers were still on top 77-63 when Brooklyn used a 19-6 spurt to draw within 83-82 late in the quarter.

The Nets took the lead early in the final period and were in front 96-93 with six minutes left. It was still 101-101 inside two minutes to play when McCollum and Lillard knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 107-101. The Nets never got closer than three points the rest of the way.

“We did a great job fighting back into the game and sticking with it down the stretch, but they’re a tough team to play once it gets down under a minute,” Lopez said.

The Blazers shot .500 from the field, .435 (10 for 23) from 3-point range and .880 from the line. They were outrebounded 47-40, however, and the Nets had the advantage in points in the paint (60-46), second-chance points (15-4) and fast-break points (15-13).

“We played well enough to win,” Stotts said. “We did a lot of good things to build a 19-point lead, but it was disappointing to have a team come back like that. (The Nets) kept the pressure on us; they pushed the tempo. They did a lot of good things to get back into the game. Some of that was them; some was us.

“But I liked the way we finished. It was good to keep our composure and put it in the ‘W’ column.”

McCollum called it “too close for comfort.”

“You can’t be dropping games at home, especially against teams with less than .500 records,” said McCollum, who had his second-best statistical game of the season, making 13 for 20 from the field, 5 for 7 on 3-point attempts and 3 for 3 at the line to go with six assists and five rebounds.

“It was good to win, but you look at what you could have done differently. (The Nets are) an NBA team. They have a lot of good players. Sometimes there are moments where you have to battle back and be tested and finish strong. We did that tonight.”

NOTES: Portland closes out its homestand against Houston Thursday night, then begins a stretch in which 11 of 13 games are on the road. … Utah (28-28) is in eighth place in the West, a game and a half behind Portland. Houston (28-29) is another half-game back. … Lillard joins Geoff Petrie (1970-71) as the only Blazers ever to score 30 points in five straight games. No Blazer has ever scored 30 six games in a row… Lillard’s previous personal best for free throws without a miss in a game was 12. The franchise record is 16 for 16 by Jim Barnett (1970) and Travis Outlaw (2007) … McCollum, who had 31 points Sunday night against Utah, has back-to-back 30-point games for the first time in his career. … Portland is 7-12 against Eastern Conference opponents. The Trail Blazers are 15-3 in their last 18 games, all three losses coming against East opponents. “I don’t have any explanation, other than Toronto and Atlanta are both very good teams, and we didn’t play very well against Philadelphia,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. …The Nets, who have lost seven in a row away from home, were beginning a nine-game road trip. They are home for only eight of their final 26 games this season. … The Nets have won on only six of their 41 visits to Portland over the years.

Tony Brown was an NBA assistant coach for 17 years with eight teams – beginning with four seasons with the Trail Blazers (1997-2001) under Mike Dunleavy — before finally getting his chance as a head coach on Jan. 10 when the Nets named him as interim coach after firing Lionel Hollins. “I’ve been in the league as an assistant for a long time,” said Brown, 55. “You always want to have the opportunity (to be a head coach). Unfortunately for me, it happened the way it did. But I’m going to try to enjoy the process as much as possible while managing a team, trying to get wins and improving some of our players. Each day is something new for me.” … Brown’s lead assistant is Joe Wolf, who played 21 games for the Blazers during the 1992-93 season. Wolf, who has been an NBA assistant coach for seven seasons, spent three years (2012-14) working with the Ukraine national team. Mike Fratello was the head coach; Bob Hill his lead assistant. “We finished sixth at 2013 Eurobasket, which qualified us for the 2014 World Cup,” said Wolf, 51. “We missed advancing to the final eight there by a point. It was an unbelievable experience. Got to see all the players in Europe. Got to travel and get a feel for international basketball.” … Brown was an assistant last season when Portland center Mason Plumlee was with the Nets. The coach has been impressed with Plumlee’s improvement this season. “He’s a playmaker,” Brown said. “He has quick feet, he’s mobile, and you’d think he’d attack the rim a lot more. But Portland has been very good at putting the ball in his hands, and he’s making decisions with the ball that you’d expect from a point guard.” … Plumlee scored only four points in 27 minutes Tuesday night, but grabbed 13 rebounds, passed out five assists and blocked two shots.

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