Lillard scores 26, Blazers hand Hornets 6th straight loss
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Portland Trail Blazers didn’t need a buzzer-beater this time.
Damian Lillard overcame a slow start to finish with 26 points on six 3-pointers and the Blazers pulled away to beat Charlotte 105-95 Wednesday night, handing the Hornets their sixth straight loss.
Anfernee Simons scored 19 points and Shaedon Sharpe chipped in with 17 points off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers shot 53.3% and rallied from a 12-point deficit in the third quarter to improve to 3-1 on their six-game road trip.
Drew Eubanks added 14 points and eight rebounds for Portland, which had won two games in the previous four nights on buzzer-beaters.
Terry Rozier led the Hornets with 18 points while Mason Plumlee had 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Lillard, who came in averaging 29 points per game in his six previous starts this season, failed to score in the first quarter before erupting for 14 points in the second quarter.
Lillard said he was getting mad in the first half and thought to himself “what are we doing tonight?” after the Trail Blazers were getting hurt on the boards and turning the ball over.
Then he realized the impact of not having Jerami Grant (ankle) and Jusuf Nurkic (adductor) on the floor. Both sat out.
“Not having them out there makes us pretty small,” Lillard said. “That puts us in a position where we might be vulnerable against a team that is always crashing the boards. So they hurt us with that. But we never stopped competing.”
The Trail Blazers led by five at the break, but the Hornets opened the second half with a 19-2 run helped by two 3-pointers from Rozier. At least for a moment, the home crowd was on its feet, hoping the team’s losing ways might be over.
But the momentum didn’t last long.
Lillard started to heat up and the Blazers stormed back with a 16-2 burst of their own. He had seven points during that stretch and finished the game 6 of 12 from 3-point range as Portland regained the lead and control of the game.
“They went small and started switching everything and slowed us down, and then they played the zone a little bit more,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Portland’s strategy. “I thought in the first half against the zone we actually got really good shots. In the second half, not as good.”
In what has been a major issue of late, the Hornets faded in the the fourth quarter and the Blazers capitalized by building a 13-point lead with 6:23 left on a drive and score by Josh Hart.
LILLARD VS. McCOLLUM
With the win behind him, Lillard began looking ahead to Thursday night’s matchup with former backcourt mate C.J. McCollum, whom he spent 8 1/2 seasons with in Portland before he was traded to New Orleans.
“It’s weird because I have never played against C.J. unless it was practice,” Lillard said. “Just seeing him in a different uniform is weird enough. Playing against him is going to be even more different.”
Lillard said he last spoke with McCollum on Tuesday, but said they didn’t discuss the upcoming game.
“I’m sure he is still going to take it personal to play against us and want to win this one,” Lillard said.
Clifford said LaMelo Ball (ankle), Gordon Hayward (shoulder) and Cody Martin (quad) are still working back considered day to day. He said none of them will play at Miami on Thursday night.
“All three of them, they’re all doing everything they can. I get people who stop me on the street (and ask me),” Clifford said. “They’re in there, they come back (in the gym) at night, they’re doing double. They’re closer. They’re doing everything they can do.”
Blazers: Along with Grant and Nurkic, Keon Johnson (hip pointer) also sat out. … Simons and Lillard had four-point plays on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter. … Josh Hart had 11 rebounds.
Hornets: Kelly Oubre finished with 16 points but was just 1 of 11 from beyond the arc. … Bench was outscored 35-22.
Blazers: At New Orleans on Thursday.
Hornets: At Miami on Thursday and Saturday.
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