The goal of the Portland Trail Blazers is to stay afloat while star guard Damian Lillard recovers from a groin injury.
That quest wasn’t fulfilled in the first game missed by the five-time All-Star.
Portland looks to get back in the win column on Sunday night when the struggling Detroit Pistons visit town. Detroit has lost five straight games.
Lillard said Thursday that he will miss three or four games due to the injury and his skills were badly missed in Friday’s 128-115 home loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. It was the team’s third straight setback and it also kept the club 3 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
“Every loss hurts,” Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum said after the setback. “When you’re out of the playoffs, fighting for position to make the playoffs, it doesn’t matter who you lose to, you have to try to win as many games as possible, especially at home. Feels the same. It’s a loss that makes it more difficult for us in the long run.”
McCollum matched his career best of 10 assists while taking on more of the ball-handling duties with Lillard sidelined. He also had 27 points and six rebounds but committed five turnovers.
Forward Carmelo Anthony added 20 points and big man Hassan Whiteside recorded 19 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots.
Still, not having the team’s go-to force hurt.
“We miss Dame, of course, but we got 25 games to go,” Anthony said afterward. “We don’t know his status as far as when he’s coming back, so we can’t cry over that. That situation is what it is. What’s important for Dame is to get healthy.”
With Portland saddled with a 25-32 record and the San Antonio Spurs (24-31) and New Orleans Pelicans (24-32) also trying to catch Memphis (28-28), the margin for error is thin.
“With 25 games left, we’re going to need everybody,” Anthony said. “As a collective, as a group, we’re going to need everybody to kind of get over this hump and try to make this push.”
Meanwhile, the Pistons aim to halt their skid as they open a four-game road trip.
The team also continues to look to the future as it reached a buyout agreement with forward Markieff Morris on Friday.
Morris is the third veteran to leave the team this month. Detroit also traded center Andre Drummond to the Cleveland Cavaliers and reached a buyout agreement with point guard Reggie Jackson.
With the Pistons short on point guards, they signed former Michigan player and Detroit native Derrick Walton Jr. to a 10-day contract.
“It felt weird for the first time getting up out of my own bed and coming to practice. It’s surreal and it’s a blessing,” Walton told reporters. “I’ve always had the same approach: I do what I can and let the rest take care of itself. I don’t put too much pressure on myself.”
Though the team is now in full audition mode, Detroit coach Dwane Casey said that production still matters.
“The only way I think you build a championship-type team is to play the guys who produce,” Casey told reporters. “If you just run them out there with no consequences for mistakes, no consequences for lack of discipline, no consequences for letting your guy blow by you, then you’re not going to have very much when it’s all ready to go (in future years). It’s pretty simple from that standpoint.”
Things didn’t go well in Thursday’s 126-106 home loss to the NBA-best Milwaukee Bucks.
Milwaukee scored at will in the first half while jumping out to a 70-41 halftime lead.
Reserve forward Christian Wood stood out for Detroit with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
The Trail Blazers have won two of the past three meetings after the Pistons won the previous five.
–Field Level Media