Lillard, Blazers continue playoff push vs. Clippers


The Portland Trail Blazers will attempt to continue their surge for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference on Saturday afternoon when they face the Los Angeles Clippers near Orlando.

Both clubs recorded wins Thursday. But as far as individual performances, Damian Lillard delivered in impressive fashion, scoring 45 points, recording 12 assists and leading the Trail Blazers past the Denver Nuggets 125-115. Lillard connected on 13 of 21 shots, including 11 of 18 3-pointers. The 3-pointers made equaled Lillard’s club record.

Lillard struggled offensively in Portland’s previous three contests but not this time.

“In the first three games, the ball I thought was coming off my hands really well. I just wasn’t making (shots),” Lillard told reporters after the game. “I think it was timing and the fact we haven’t been playing in games, (without) a lot of live action it just takes time. But it felt good. I knew eventually it would click and the ball just would go in and it would feel great.”

Portland made 23 of 39 shots from behind the arc, setting a franchise record.

The win put the Blazers (32-38) a half-game back of the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed entering Friday’s games.

Gary Trent Jr. finished with 27 points off the bench on 10-of-15 shooting, converting 7 of 10 3-pointers for the Blazers, who prevailed for their third win in four contests since the NBA restart.

“He just continues to grow,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said of Trent, who matched his career best for 3-pointers. “He turned the tide in the first half. We played really well for the rest of the first half in large part because of his impact on the game at both ends of the floor.”

Jusuf Nurkic scored 22 points and collected seven rebounds for Portland. He also had a posterizing dunk on Denver’s Bol Bol.

The Clippers are coming off a 126-111 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. Kawhi Leonard had 29 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Paul George added 24 points, seven boards and six assists for the Clippers (46-22).

Clippers center Ivica Zubac had an outstanding game, contributing 21 points on 10-of-10 shooting from the floor and 15 rebounds. Zubac’s field goals made tied Charles Smith for the franchise record for most attempts without a miss. Smith performed the feat April 11, 1992, against the Nuggets.

Zubac is ready to compete with some of the elite big men as the Clippers head toward the NBA playoffs, his teammates believe.

“I think he’s ready at this point in his career,” said George, according to the Los Angeles Times. “He’s still got a ways to go. He’s going to make mistakes now, he’s going to make mistakes in the playoffs, as we all are. I think, again, a good thing about it, he’s got so much playoff experience around him that our job is to make this process easy for him.

“Again, everyone’s going to make mistakes. I’m still learning the game. It’s going to come natural. But I think he’s ready for the experience.”

The Clippers remain without forward-center Montrezl Harrell but he could return next week, according to Yahoo Sports reporter Chris Haynes. Harrell left the NBA bubble because of the passing of his grandmother.

Clippers point guard Patrick Beverley (calf) will likely miss his second straight game.

–Field Level Media

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