Blazers Dominate Hornets From Start To Finish To Extend Win Streak To Four

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- Even though the Trail Blazers notched relatively easy wins against inferior Eastern Conference opponents in their last two games, they did so without looking all that dominant in the first half of those performances.

That would not be the case in their third straight game against similar competition.

Behind stellar, stat-stuffing performances from CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkić and a dominant performance from the bench unit, the Trail Blazers built a 22-point first-half lead before going on to defeat the Charlotte Hornets 127-96 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 Friday night at the Moda Center.

"I thought we played a really good basketball game," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "The first half at both ends -- we were moving the ball, making plays for each other offensively, defensively we had 19 either deflections or blocks in the first half. I was proud of the way we played in the third quarter to not give in to complacency. So it was really a good game. CJ was really in a groove obviously in the first quarter. I liked the demeanor of our team the entire game. At both ends of the floor, I thought we were really locked in and played the right way."

The Trail Blazers are now 26-17 overall and 17-7 at home this season. They have matched their longest winning streak of the season at four games, have won six of their last seven and finish a five-game homestand with a 4-1 record. Portland has now won four-in-a-row versus the Hornets and their last 11 versus the Eastern-Conference club at the Moda Center.

Portland wasted no time showing their quality against a Hornets team playing the fourth of a six-game Western Conference road trip. The Blazers used a 9-0 run before four minutes had elapsed to take a 13-3 lead in the first quarter. CJ McCollum picked up right where he left off after braking out of a slump with 24 points in Wednesday’s victory versus the Bulls, scoring 12 consecutive points for the Trail Blazers to lead the home team to a 37-27 lead going into the second quarter.

With a comfortable lead, Terry Stotts turned the game over to the five-man bench unit to start the second quarter. And after a bit of a slow start, resulting in Charlotte getting to within four points early in the quarter, Portland went on a 14-0 run and outscored their counterparts 22-4 before being subbed out at the 4:45 mark.

Between McCollum’s scoring in the first quarter, the bench’s scoring and defense in the second and Nurkić protecting the rim with five blocks, Portland outscored Charlotte by 11 in the quarter to take a 70-49 lead into the intermission.

"I thought we did a great job of echoing the call," said Lillard. "When they were calling their plays out, a lot of times we echo it back to the bench so they can tell us look for this or look for that, but we was pretty sharp this morning in shoot around, and we pretty much said it to each other for the first part of this game. Where we hear something, we was communicating what was coming to each other so I think we were just in a much better position to make those plays."

Even though they came with a much more dominant performance in the first half of Friday’s game than they did in their last two games, their second-half effort was just as good, if not better, than in wins versus the Knicks and Bulls. Portland dictated the pace on both ends of the floor to nearly double Charlotte’s point total in the third to take a 101-68 advantage into the fourth and final quarter.

All that was left to be decided was whether Nurkic would get the two assists he needed to log a triple-double. Stotts allowed “the Bosnian Beast” to play the first two minutes of the fourth, but Portland went scoreless in that stretch before conceding that it simply wasn’t meant to be.

"I told him I would give him two minutes," said Stotts. "Honestly, it’s something you have to do but I didn’t necessarily like doing it because I thought it took away from the rhythm of the game and kind of made it tough for the four new guys coming into the game. We gave it a shot though."

TOP PERFORMERS

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 30 points (12-20 FG, 5-11 3-PT, 1-1 FT) to go with six rebounds, two assists and one steal. It was his seventh game this season with 30-plus points.

Jusuf Nurkic recorded 11 points (5-6 FG, 1-1 FT), 11 rebounds, eight assists, one steal and six blocks in 30 minutes. His eight assists and six blocks matched his career highs. Nurkic is the fourth player in NBA history to record at least 11 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and six blocks in 30 minutes or fewer.

"His presence in the paint defensively was really impressive," said Stotts. "He ended up with six blocks. His defense was good. Nothing was forced on the offense. I thought the impact he made defensively was the biggest thing."

Damian Lillard finished with 20 points (8-16 FG, 2-7 3-PT, 2-2 FT), four rebounds, five assists, three steals and a career high four blocks. Evan Turner logged 15 points (6-9 FG, 1-2 3-PT, 2-2 FT), five rebounds, three assists and one steal in 21 minutes off the bench. It was the third time he has scored in double figures in the last four games.

Nik Stauskas had 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (1-3 3-PT, 2-3 FT) to go with five rebounds and three assists. It was the eighth time this season that he scored in double figures. Meyers Leonard finished with four points, one rebound and one assist while matching his career high with three blocks.
With the homestand now complete, the Trail Blazers hit the road for a back-to-back series starting Sunday versus the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.

LISTEN UP

NOTABLE

• The Trail Blazers won their fourth straight game, matching the team’s longest winning streak of the season (four, Nov. 4 - Nov. 11).

• The Trail Blazers had a season-high 31 assists on a season-high 52 field goals. It was the team’s fifth straight game with at least 25 assists.

• Portland shot 55.9% from the field (52-of-93), which is their third-highest field goal percentage of the season. Charlotte shot 40.0% from the field (36-of-40).

• The Trail Blazers scored a season-high 26 fast break points while the Hornets finished with 10 fast break points.

• Portland matched its season high for blocks in a game (10) in the first half. The Trail Blazers finished with 16 blocks and 10 steals. Their 16 blocks were one shy of the franchise record (17, 1/19/79 at New Orleans).  The Hornets had two blocks and three steals.

• Portland outrebounded the Hornets, 47-43, and outscored them in the paint, 48-36.

• Portland scored 70 points in the first half, matching their highest-scoring first half of the sea-son (third time). The Trail Blazers also matched their highest-scoring first quarter of the season with 37 points (third time).

• The Portland reserves outscored the Charlotte bench, 48-43.

QUOTABLE

"I was like, if it not happen right away, I'm not going to chase that." -- Jusuf Nurkić on coming two assists short of a triple-double

NEXT UP

With the homestand now complete, the Trail Blazers hit the road for a back-to-back series starting Sunday versus the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets.

"(Denver) came here and they got one," said Lillard. "We had a shot at the end of the game to beat them and we didn’t feel like we played that well, so we’ve just got to take this brand of basketball that we’ve been playing the last few games and take it to their court and go get us another win."

Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.