Trail Blazers Return Home After 4-1 Road Trip To Host Bucks

by Casey Holdahl
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After returning from a five-game road trip with four wins, the Trail Blazers start a four-game homestand by hosting the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday night at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Portland enters Thursday night’s game riding their first three-game winning streak of the season. After starting the extended road trip of the season with a win in Memphis and a loss in Philadelphia, the Trail Blazers finished off their stay on the east coast by defeating the Nets, Wizards and Knicks to return home with a 13-8 record, currently good for fourth in the Western Conference.

“More than anything we have had to find ways to get it done," said Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard of the team's performance after being the Knicks to end the trip. "Memphis -- we didn’t play well offensively but we found ways to grind it out. CJ (McCollum) had a big game down the stretch in DC. Brooklyn -- we had a great six minute stretch where we came up big defensively."

And versus the Knicks, Portland built a 26-point, third-quarter lead before coasting to a 103-91 victory Monday night at Madison Square Garden. Lillard led all players with 32 points while CJ McCollum, Pat Connaughton, Jusuf Nurkić and Evan Turner all finished in double figures.

As for the Bucks, they've lost three of their last five, though they're coming off a 112-87 victory versus the Kings in Sacramento. Thursday's game in Portland is the last of a four-game, Western Conference trip for the Bucks, a team that sits in seventh place in the East with a 10-9 record.

Thursday's game will also complete the season series between the two teams, with the Bucks taking the first meeting 113-110 thanks mostly to a career-high 44 points from forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who also tallied eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks in the victory.

"The challenge is that he's really good at what he does," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts on defending Antetokounmpo. "He's not an easy person to double team because he's out on the floor. He knows what works for him, he doesn't take many perimeter shots, he made one three against us. The challenge is keeping him away from the rim, giving help defense in the paint. But at the same time, he's a good passer. It's a difficult challenge."

Luckily for the Trail Blazers, they'll have everyone available to defend Antetokounmpo, as forward AL-Farouq Aminu is expected to play in Thursday after missing the last 13 games with a sprained right ankle. Though he'll be on a minutes restriction, having the 6-9 forward out of Wake Forest, who is widely considered Portland's best defender, available to take turns defending the "Greek Freak" along with Maurice Harkless, Evan Turner, Noah Vonleh and Pat Connaughton gives the Trail Blazers their best chance of slowing down the MVP candidate.

"The lineup that (Milwaukee) started, they've got Middleton at three and Giannis at four," said Stotts. "We'll see who they start, but whether it's Pat or Moe or Chief or Noah, whoever it is has to take the challenge and the biggest thing is to try and keep him away from the rim."

Thursday night's game can be seen locally on NBC Sports Northwest with Kevin Calabro, Lamar Hurd and Brooke Olzendam. Brian Wheeler and Michael Holton will have the call on Rip City Radio 620 AM starting at 7 p.m.