Golden State next for red-hot Blazers
The Trail Blazers are streaking. So is Damian Lillard.
But look out above. Here come the Golden State Warriors.
Portland (39-26) backhanded the hapless New York Knicks 111-87 Tuesday night at Moda Center for its eighth straight victory.
Next up for the hometown quintet: the defending champion Warriors at home Friday night. Portland started its current streak with a rollicking 123-117 victory over Golden State on Feb. 14.
The Warriors (50-14) are on a six-game roll of their own.
"I read somewhere where they're saying they're trying to win out (for the rest of the regular season)," Portland forward Ed Davis said. "It's one of those games that's easy to get up for. Friday night, sold-out arena, crowd's going to be rocking, they're going to want to get us back. ... as a player, that's all you can ask for."
As an offensive phenom, Lillard is all you can ask for right now. Portland's captain and All-Star point guard bombed in 37 points in 31 scintillating minutes in a search-and-destroy mission against the knock-kneed Knicks (24-41), who have lost five in a row and 13 of the last 14. Lillard was 10 for 18 from the field, 8 for 11 from 3-point range and 9 for 11 from the free-throw line.
Over the past 10 games, Lillard is averaging 35.4 points while shooting .489 from the field, .422 on 3's and .878 from the line.
"'Dame' was in a great groove," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "He's been in a groove for a while. He was shooting it easy, feeling confident."
"I just wanted to come out and be aggressive, regardless of who the opponent is," Lillard said.
Lillard has always had good range, but he's never widened it out as much as he has in the second half of this season, when many of his triples have come from well beyond the arc. By necessity, he said.
"It's coming open," Lillard said. "Teams make (defensive) adjustments late in the season. They're taking the looks away if I try to toe the line. Sometimes, I'm getting right up to the line, but if I come off a screen and a 'big' is back and I get a look, I'm comfortable a few steps behind the line. I'm going to take that shot."
Before the game, New York coach Jeff Hornacek said Lillard "is playing like Steph Curry. He's shooting from 30 feet out, which is extremely hard to guard."
Afterward, Hornacek went further: "The guy is playing fantastic. He might be one of those guys you have to start talking about for the MVP."
Lillard has heard "MVP!" chants while at the foul line at Moda Center in recent weeks, and his name is now coming up in the discussion on the national scene, along with James Harden, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Curry and Kevin Durant. Being in the discussion, Lillard said, isn't enough.
"It's an honor to be mentioned in that, but I don't look at it that way," he said. "I feel like that's the level of player I can be."
Later, he added, "It's been my best season all around, so far."
More important, though, is the Blazers' ascension in the NBA Western Conference playoff picture. They remain in third place behind the Warriors and Houston, a game and a half ahead of New Orleans (36-26), San Antonio (37-27) and Minnesota (38-28). The Blazers are on their longest win streak since running off nine in a row in November 2014.
"I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about the streak, other than that we've beaten teams that were right in a group with us — Utah, Minnesota and Oklahoma City, three teams in our division, three teams fighting with us for a playoff spot," Stotts said. "But we have a long way to go. I don't really have a lot of time to reflect on it."
Portland didn't play particularly well early in the first half against the overmatched Knicks, leading only 57-52 at the break. The Blazers spurted into a 79-58 lead late in the third quarter, and New York got no closer than 15 points in the final period.
The Blazers won the game at the three-point line, hitting a season-high 20 of 33 shots (a season-high .606) to 7 of 19 for the Knicks.
"It's good to have a good shooting night," Stotts said. "It's fun when the ball's going in. We moved the ball better in the second half. When you move the ball and get good 3-point looks, you have a better chance to make them."
Lillard said the Blazers are enjoying "the best stretch of games since my second year in the league."
That was 2013-14, when Portland had an 11-game win streak early and prevailed in nine of the last 10 during a 54-win regular season.
"It's hard to win five games in a row, much less eight," Davis said. "This is my eighth year in the league, and I've been on maybe one in my career before this. It's real hard to do that. We've beaten some good teams on this streak — some of them on the road."
Now they'll get another chance against the team with the league's best record, looking to settle a score.
"It will be a good test," Stotts said. "That win (over the Warriors) going into the All-Star Game kick-started us. It was one of our better games."
The Blazers have plenty of confidence in the guy driving their bus.
"Dame is the best point guard in the league," Stotts said. "He's playing great ball right now. He's going to be Hall of Fame player. Those guys don't come around very often."
NOTES — Lillard was only one made 3-pointer shy of the franchise single-game mark he co-holds with Nicolas Batum. He passed Cliff Robinson to move into fourth place on the career scoring list (10,433 points) and now trails only Clyde Drexler, LaMarcus Aldridge and Terry Porter. ... Portland starting small forward Moe Harkless missed his third straight game with a sore knee. He said he expects to play against the Warriors. ... The Blazers are 14-1 in their last 15 home games. ... Portland is 9-4 in the second of back-to-back games. ... CJ McCollum scored 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter. ... Stotts, on Lillard's recent exploits: "I'm not surprised, but I'm always impressed."