Another walk(over) in the park for Blazers
"Walkover Week" continued for the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night with a 124-112 victory over the Chicago Bulls at Moda Center.
The New York Knicks — Portland's victim on Monday — and the Bulls are both 10-31 and among the dregs of the NBA's Eastern Conference. Friday's opponent — the Charlotte Hornets — are 19-21 and a step up from the Knicks and Bulls, but still a foe the Blazers should dispose of at home with relative ease.
That's not the way the Blazers are looking at it, of course.
"Can't think about (an opponent's) record," Portland swing man Evan Turner said. "You have to take care of business. Teams are going to come out and compete and play hard. We have to do whatever it takes to win and leave it at that."
The Blazers (25-17) did that against the Bulls, breaking open a tight game in the third quarter, just as they'd done two nights earlier against the Knicks. Portland, in front only 56-51 at the half, scored 39 points in the third quarter and led 95-85 heading into the final period. The Blazers moved in front 117-98 with five minutes left and coasted from there to their 10th win in the last 14 outings.
"The first half, we had some good moments," said point guard Damian Lillard, who made only 4 of 12 field-goal attempts but contributed 16 points and 10 assists in 33 minutes. "The second half, we just tightened everything up. We got a few more stops. The ball movement was better. We made more shots. There was good energy in the game.
"And we got something from a lot of guys. We get that type of effort from so many people, we're going to get this type of result."
Eight Blazers scored eight points or more, led by CJ McCollum with 24 points on 10-for-14 shooting. It was less than half of the 50-point barrage he put on the Bulls in 29 minutes in a game a year ago, but it would seem there is something about the Bulls that brings out the best in the Lehigh legend.
"I just like playing in general, stepping out on that court and competing, especially against quality talent," McCollum said. "We have to be ready to play every night, regardless of (the opponent's) record. I just tried to show up and be aggressive."
Another Blazer who showed up was Zach Collins, who came off the bench for 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists in 26 minutes. The second-year 7-footer was 6 for 9 from the field, 2 for 3 from 3-point range and 2 for 2 from the free-throw line. And he made hustle plays at both ends.
"I liked his activity on the boards and around the court," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "In pick-and-rolls, (the Bulls were) blitzing with him, and he was able to get some rolls and finish around the basket. He had defensive presence around the rim and affected some shots. He had a really good game."
"The coaches said this was an energy game," said Collins, whose season scoring high is 17. "We were going to have to be more energetic than (the Bulls), compete harder, and that's what we did."
Portland's second unit contributed 56 points, led by Collins and Seth Curry, who knocked down 7 of 11 shots, including 3 for 5 from the 3-point line, and finished with 17 points in 23 minutes.
"We're getting better," Curry said of the Portland reserves. "That's the way it should be as the season goes along. You continue to find things you do well, and do them better. I'm getting more comfortable with these guys and finding spots, finding ways to contribute."
The Blazers shot .566 — their second highest field-goal percentage of the season. They were 11 for 26 (.423) from beyond the arc and 19 for 21 (.905) at the line.
The Bulls, like the Knicks, were unable to put up much of a fight at the defensive end.
"Nothing against (the Knicks or Bulls), but these are teams we've been able to get things that we might not have been able to get against those other teams," Lillard said.
NOTES — The Bulls shot .621 from the field, Portland was 2 for 10 from 3-point range and the Blazers still led 30-29 after one quarter. ... It was another big game for Portland center Jusuf Nurkic, who had 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting to go with eight rebounds. Nurkic played only 21 minutes, however, in part due to foul trouble. ... Jake Layman started at small forward for the Blazers in the absence of Moe Harkless (knee). Layman had two points and two rebounds in 17 minutes. ... Portland guard Nik Stauskas got his first action after three straight DNP/CD's (did not play/coach's decision). The 6-6 guard, who entered at the start of the second quarter, made 2 of 3 3-point shots in his first four minutes. He finished with eight points, three rebounds and three assists in 16 minutes. "With Moe out, there are minutes there," Stotts said. "Nik had a really good practice (Tuesday). He and the rooks (Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons) played some one-on-one, and he was in a really good rhythm. He showed that tonight. Stauskas: "Coach (Stotts) watched practice (Tuesday). Maybe he liked what he saw, so he trusted me today. Glad he did."
The Blazers are now 25-0 when leading and 0-17 when trailing after three quarters. ... Curry played with his parents, Dell and Sonya, in the crowd. Dell, who serves as TV analyst for the Hornets, came into town early. "It's a lot of fun to have them here," Seth Curry said. "Not a lot of times my dad gets to see me play. Two games in a row — that's unusual." ... Seth spent his first eight years growing up in Charlotte, where Dell played with the Hornets. "It's the hometown team, the team I grew up watching my dad play for," Seth said. "I'm very excited to play against them (on Friday)." ... Bulls coach Jim Boylen was asked what he remembered about McCollum's 50-point game last season. "We couldn't turn him off," he said. "When he gets his left hand in rhythm, he is as good as anybody in the league and the basket is really big for him."