Blazers Beat: Trail Blazers hit the road for four games
What's ahead: After a Tuesday, March 23, game with Brooklyn (update: 116-112 loss) that culminates a five-game homestand, the Trail Blazers play three games on the road in Florida — 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Miami, 5 p.m. Friday at Orlando and 5 p.m. Sunday vs. Toronto at Tampa, Florida (where the Raptors play home games in 2020-21 season) — and then at Detroit, 4 p.m. March 31.
CJ McCollum returned, but when does Jusuf Nurkic get back on the court?
What's behind: The Blazers won three games before an epic loss to Dallas.
New Orleans outplayed Portland for 43 minutes on Tuesday, March 16, but Damian Lillard & Co. made things happen in an unbelievable comeback from 17 points down. Lillard scored 50 points (including go-ahead free throws with seconds left) and backcourt mate CJ McCollum returned from missing 25 games in the 125-124 win, in which New Orleans became the first NBA team all season (teams were 236-0) to lose after leading by 17 or more points with less than six minutes left; two missed free throws and an inexplicable turnover spelled doom for the Pelicans.
In notching his first game of 50 or more points this season, Lillard made 13 of 20 shots (6-of-13 3-pointers) and all 18 free-throw attempts as Portland set a franchise record by going 31 of 31 at the line. He also had 10 assists.
The Blazers beat the Pelicans 101-93 on March 18, as Lillard had 36 points — and no assists, for the first time in a game since 2015 — and the night included five first-quarter 3-pointers and a clinching dunk. Portland had a season low in opponent points.
"This was our best defensive game of the year," coach Terry Stotts said. "We didn't have a bad quarter."
Zion Williamson had 54 points combined in the games for New Orleans.
In the first of two games with Dallas on Friday, March 19, the Blazers trailed the Mavericks with 5:59 left only to go on a 19-9 run the rest of the way to win 125-119. Lillard had 32 points and McCollum 31, and Luka Doncic 38.
Two nights later, Doncic scored 37 points and hit his first eight 3-point attempts. After a solid first quarter by Portland, the Mavericks got hot and never looked back. They started the third quarter on a 19-0 run — McCollum's three-point play ended a drought at 6:23 of the quarter — and Dallas eventually led by 45 points in the 132-92 win. It was Portland's worst loss of the season.
Lillard, McCollum and Carmelo Anthony combined to go 0 for 16 on 3-pointers.
"It was just a bad night," said Lillard, who played with a sore knee. "It's one of those games you get irritated by, but it happens."
McCollum's return: McCollum was having a career year before he suffered a fracture in his left foot, which forced him to miss 25 games.
He had a fabulous game against Dallas with 32 points on 11-of-23 shooting (7 of 13 3-pointers). In the other three games since his return (entering Tuesday), he went a combined 12 of 42 from the floor (5 of 18 3-pointers) and scored 34 points. (In his fifth game, against Brooklyn, he went 5 of 19 from the floor, 4 of 12 on 3s, and had 16 points).
That'll happen after missing so many games. He's still getting his legs under him.
Milestones: In the first Dallas game, Stotts reached 500 career NBA wins and Anthony surpassed 27,000 career points.
"He has that fine line of balance between coaching and empowering. He understands how hard we work and he empowers you to do things," McCollum said of Stotts, who has a career record of 500-473 in his 13th season as a head coach (entering Tuesday's game).
Among legends: TNT showed a graphic that points out the greatness of Lillard during its New Orleans-Portland broadcast March 16. He's one of four players with at least 16,000 points and 4,000 assists in his first nine seasons — along with Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and LeBron James.
Coach's praise: "I want to congratulate (coach) Wayne Tinkle and the (Oregon State) Beavs for getting to the Sweet Sixteen. I've known Wayne for a long time," Stotts said.
Lillard's knee: Lillard sat out the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against Dallas — because of the lopsided score, not because of his left knee soreness. He suffered it with knee-to-knee contact in the previous game against Dallas.
"I wouldn't say it's a blessing in disguise," he said. "Definitely helpful to not be on it for an extra 12 minutes.
"I'm not overly concerned about it. I knew it would react like this and be swollen. I'm dealing with stiffness and swelling."
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