The Portland Trail Blazers have recovered from a season-worst, five-game losing streak with back-to-back victories. Portland aims to continue the momentum on Saturday when it visits the struggling Charlotte Hornets, who have lost nine of their past 11 games.
The Trail Blazers notched a 95-88 road win over the Orlando Magic on Friday, a contest they led by 17 points with less than 7 1/2 minutes before Orlando got back into the game. “You’ve got to win games,” star point guard Damian Lillard told reporters afterward. “If we came out here and lost this game, then what would you say? You’d say, ‘Oh, you guys lost another one.’ All that matters is winning the game.” Charlotte has found winning to be a tough task recently and the home fans showered the club with jeers during the final quarter of Friday’s 104-98 loss to the Miami Heat. “We’re not slacking,” interim coach Stephen Silas, who is filling in for ailing Steve Clifford, told reporters. “We’re not not playing hard at all. Some of those turnovers were not smart. So part of it is playing smarter, but part of it, to me, is also making shots.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN Northwest (Portland), FSN Southeast (Charlotte)
ABOUT THE TRAIL BLAZERS (15-13): Center Jusuf Nurkic (ankle) returned from a three-game absence and was rusty offensively with nine points on 4-of-11 shooting while collecting 11 rebounds. Nurkic is on a minutes restriction for the back-to-back games but should be able to expand his playing time early next week. Lillard tallied 21 points against the Magic and is averaging 28.7 points in six December outings, while shooting guard CJ McCollum scored 20 and is averaging 24.3 points over the past four games.
ABOUT THE HORNETS (10-18): Point guard Kemba Walker scored 25 points against the Heat despite leaving the game for a short time with an injured left wrist. Walker has tallied 20 or more five times over the past seven games and is averaging 21.9 points during the stretch. Center Dwight Howard contributed 15 points and 16 rebounds against Miami and has 16 double-doubles this season, including in four of the past five contests.
1. The Trail Blazers have won 12 of the past 16 meetings.
2. Charlotte SG Nicolas Batum - a former Portland starter - is averaging just 6.3 points on 11-of-34 shooting over his past four games.
3. Portland F Al-Farouq Aminu is 18-of-31 from 3-point range over the past five contests.
PREDICTION: Hornets 107, Trail Blazers 104