Trail Blazers Complete Florida Sweep With Win In Orlando

by Casey Holdahl
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ORLANDO -- The Portland Trail Blazers improved to 15-13 overall and 8-5 on the road this season with a 95-88 victory versus the Orlando Magic Friday night at Amway Center.

“I thought it was a really solid win for us,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We did a lot of good things throughout the game.”

The Trail Blazers complete the season series sweep versus the Magic while winning their third-straight against the Eastern Conference club. And after besting the Heat on Wednesday, the Trail Blazers have now won four-straight games in the state of Florida dating back to last season.

After going into the first quarter leading by four and the half leading by seven, the Trail Blazers started to separate from the Magic in the second half. Though they went up by as many as 17 points in the second half, the Magic used a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter cut the lead to 86-81 after a Nikola Vucevic layup with just over three minutes to play.

“Shots stopped going for us and they just got really aggressive,” said Damian Lillard of the fourth quarter. “Down the stretch, the more aggressive team is going to get the benefit of the doubt. A shot could have gone in for us and that probably could have taken the life out of them, but it didn’t. Maybe a foul gets called and that takes the life out of them, but it didn’t. The made a few shots, they made a run for it. That’s usually what the home team does and that’s what competitors do.”

But the Trail Blazers would prove themselves to be competitors too. Rather than fold up when Orlando made their last push late in the fourth quarter, Portland outscored the home team 10-4 in the final two minutes and 45 seconds of regulation to come away with the seven-point victory.

“Obviously the stretch in the fourth quarter were Orlando made a comeback was a little unsettling,” said Stotts. “It was turnovers, we had a lot of poor offensive possessions. But other than that, it was a really good win.”

TOP SCORERS

The Trail Blazers were led by Damian Lillard, who scored 13 of his 21 points in the third quarter while also adding four assists, two rebounds, two steals and a block in 36 minutes.

CJ McCollum finished with 20 points on 8-of-20 shooting while also tallying four assists and two rebounds in 37 minutes. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half and Evan Turner went for eight points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes.

Orlando center Nikola Vucevic led all scorers with 26 points on 12-of-20 shooting while also grabbing 14 rebounds for the double-double in 34 minutes. Jonathan Simmons added 15 points and D.J. Augustin came off the bench to finish with 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field.

AL-FAROUQ THREE-MINU

Ever since Al-Farouq Aminu returned to the lineup after missing 13 games with a sprained right ankle, the 6-9 forward has been one of the NBA’s most accurate three-point shooters. In his last six games prior to Friday night’s victory in Orlando, Aminu has made 18-of-34 three-pointers, which pencils out to a 53 percent shooting.

Aminu kept up his hot streak from three versus the Magic, going 3-of-5 from beyond the arc on the way to finishing with 15 points in 30 minutes.

“I think it’s the confidence and the preparation,” said CJ McCollum of Aminu’s markedly improved three-point shooting. “Obviously he was hurt earlier in the year so he had some time to kind of work on his form probably. I assume he shot a lot of catch-and-shoot and spot-up jumpers while he was rehabbing with the ankle injury. One you know you’ve put the work in, the confidence shows on the court and I think you’re seeing that.”

A career 33 percent three-pointer shooter, Aminu is currently shooting 48 percent from three for the season, which qualifies as the second-best mark in the NBA behind Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who is shooting 51 percent from deep in his rookie season.

RETURN OF THE NURK

After missing the last three games with a sprained right ankle, center Jusuf Nurkić returned to the lineup Friday night versus the Magic. Though he was still feeling the effects of the injury and was on a minutes restriction, the 7-0 Bosnian started and played 24 minutes while finishing with nine points and 11 rebounds.

“I missed three games so nothing crazy but in the first quarter I was like ‘Damn, this (stuff) hurts,’” said Nurkić. “But then I kind of getting used to, kind of pain get over, so I feel better. I just try to get right play at right time, so try to help team to win. If I’m going to wait to be 100 percent can take for a month, so I don’t want to do that. It’s nothing serious, sprained ankle, and I can fight through.”

With Nurkić returning to the rotation, rookie Zach Collins, who started Wednesday’s victory in Miami, was the first big off the bench Friday night, adding four points and six rebounds in19 minutes. Meyers Leonard, who started the first two games while Nurkić was sidelined but missed Wednesday’s game due to illness, dressed but did not play versus the Magic.

THEY SAID IT

“I’ve just never been a worrier. As a person, even as a kid, I never worried. I had an uphill battle making it to the NBA but I just wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t make it. In my mind, in my heart, I always felt I would make the NBA, so I’m naturally that way. When (the five-game losing streak) happened, in my mind I was like ‘Okay, ever year for every team, adversity hits at some point’ and I felt like it was just hitting for us. We had been defending well, we hadn’t been playing great offensively and we was finding that a little bit but we just weren’t able to win games.

“When adversity hits you’ve got to stay positive, you’ve got to stay together and keep working, working towards the right things. I thought not just myself but everybody did. Our coaching staff did a great job of not making it seem like the worst thing ever, but also addressing the issues that we was having. And the guys on the team too, everybody stayed sharp, stayed locked in. Guys didn’t go their separate ways and when it happens like that, you able to come out of those types of tough situations and have back-to-back wins when we absolutely needed it.” — Damian Lillard

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NEXT UP

With the Florida teams out of the way, the Trail Blazers continue their five-game road trip by heading to North Carolina for their once-yearly contest versus the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.