After an inconsistent road trip, the Portland Trail Blazers returned home. The team needed to stay over .500, going into the week at 22-21. Portland needed to win at least two of these games against inferior squads to keep its playoff run credible.
Dominating performance over Suns
The Blazers played the Phoenix Suns for the third time this season on Jan. 16. Much like the first two match-ups, the game was largely controlled by Portland.
The Blazers led for all but five minutes against the Suns, with the lead continuously growing from the end of the first quarter to the end of the third. Portland went into the final frame leading by 20, with very little chance of blowing the lead.
Unfortunately, the Blazers weren’t able to rest their starters for the rest of the game. The reserves allowed the Suns to slowly whittle away at the Portland lead for half the fourth quarter. The Blazers were then forced to put the starters back in for the rest of this contest, who were able to hold the late Phoenix run at bay and win the game 118-111.
Portland overcame 43 points from Phoenix’s Devin Booker, including 21 points in the fourth quarter to try and bring the Suns back. The Blazers back court of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum responded on their own, with 31 and 27 respectively. Three other Blazers scored in double-figures in an all-around dominant victory.
Late-game defense suffocates Pacers
Portland hosted the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 18, who have been one of the NBA’s surprise teams all season long. Indiana has put up a fight against every opponent this season, and that didn’t change for most of the night against Portland.
The first three quarters was a game that neither team could gain control over. There were 11 lead changes and three ties in a competitive first half. The competitiveness of the game was definitely apparent when the teams went into fourth tied at 74.
The fourth quarter was when the Blazers’ improved defense put the clamps on the Pacers. Portland began the quarter on an 18-3 run, in which the Pacers shot 1-9. With less than five minutes left, the game was basically decided. The game ended 100-86 in Portland’s favor, with the team outscoring the Pacers 26-12 to end the game.
Lillard had another stellar performance with 26 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. The real story was Jusuf Nurkić. “The Bosnian Beast” had 19 points to go along with a season-high 17 rebounds. After being taken out of the game for an extended period of time due to seemingly inconsistent play against the Suns a couple days before, it was a relief to see Nurkić dominating again.
Lillard plays a near-perfect game in win over Mavericks
Portland’s final game in this three-game home stretch was their first match-up of the season against the Dallas Mavericks. As one of the worst teams in the NBA, it would be embarrassing for Portland to drop one at home to Dallas.
The Blazers did what they have rarely done this season, dismantle an opponent at home. The Mavericks’ only lead in the game came when they led 4-2 just over a minute into the game. After that, it was all Blazers.
Lillard absolutely caught fire as Portland built its lead. Lillard didn’t miss a shot until the final minute of the third quarter. Leading up to that point, he was shooting 9-9 from the field, including 7-7 from three. It was one of those games that Portland has become familiar with, when the rim just keeps getting wider and wider for Lillard, who finished with 31 points.
All of Portland’s starters scored in double-figures as well. Ed Davis led the team off the bench with 10 rebounds and two blocked shots. Everyone contributed in a tight nine-man rotation for the Blazers. Former Blazer Wesley Matthews led the Mavericks with 23 points.
The Blazers moved to 25-21 after the recent home-stand, and are hitting a stride at the right time. Lillard is playing as good of basketball as he has all season, which is great for him given that the final All-Star selections will be announced this week. Portland fans anxiously await to see if Lillard can return to the All-Star team after a two-year absence.
The Blazers started off the week by playing the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center Monday. It will be a short road trip, as the team will head back to Portland to play the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, before heading down to Dallas to play the Mavericks for the second time in a week on Friday.