The Portland Trail Blazers have dropped three in a row and five of their last six to fall a season-high five games under .500.
The Trail Blazers will bid to stop their slide on Sunday when they visit the Orlando Magic in the second contest of a six-game road trip.
“We’re not playing great,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said following Friday’s 129-111 setback to the Atlanta Hawks. “Every team has these lapses during the season and that’s exactly where we’re at.”
Damian Lillard continued his hot hand, however, by recording 33 points and eight assists against the Hawks. The seven-time All-Star drained five 3-pointers on Friday and has made 41 over his last seven games.
Lillard, who is averaging a team-best 32.3 points per game, scored 30 in Portland’s 109-106 home loss to Orlando on Jan. 10.
Jusuf Nurkic collected 22 points and 10 rebounds and Anfernee Simons added 15 in that game, however both players are nursing injuries. Nurkic has been out for over a month due to an ailing calf, while Simons and Justise Winslow are dealing with ankle injuries.
“I’m not an excuse coach at all,” Billups said. “I don’t do that. I don’t condone that with my guys. We’re not playing great and teams are starting to play better than us. I think teams are playing harder than us for the most part. I don’t question the effort of our guys. But inexperience really shows up in a lot of our games. We’ve got some really important pieces that we’ve been relying on that are not playing. But that’s how this game goes.”
The Magic likely will have a bit of pep in their step heading into the opener of their four-game homestand.
Rookie Paolo Banchero scored 31 points in Orlando’s 117-106 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday. The win marked the fifth consecutive time that the Magic have answered a loss with a victory.
“That has been the story the last three months for us; whenever we take a loss, we seem to bounce right back,” said Banchero, who averages a team-leading 19.9 points per game.
Banchero, the top overall pick of the 2022 NBA Draft, has reached the 30-point plateau on five occasions this season — tying Dennis Scott for the second-most by a rookie in franchise history. Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal had 10 during his rookie campaign in 1992-93.
“I thought his level of aggression was there,” Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley said of Banchero. “His ability to get to his spots on the floor and attacking the basket in the same way with a level of aggression. His teammates trusted him in those moments.”
All was not rosy for Orlando, however.
Franz Wagner sustained a left ankle sprain and did not return for the second half. He awkwardly fell and rolled the ankle after being hit by JT Thor while trying to corral a low pass from Jalen Suggs.
“They are going to monitor it. Obviously, we’re going to check on it, but I think he’s going to be OK,” Mosley said.
Wagner, who averages 18.7 points per game, scored a team-high 29 points in the previous encounter with the Trail Blazers.
–Field Level Media