Winning at home has been a challenge lately for the Portland Trail Blazers, and it certainly didn’t get any easier Friday with Damian Lillard sitting out because a hamstring injury. The two-time All-Star guard will again be sitting out Saturday when the Trail Blazers hope to continue their recent success on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Portland predictably struggled without the NBA’s eighth-leading scorer, who is hopeful he can return for his team’s following game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 28, and amassed its third-lowest point total of the season in a 102-85 loss to the Denver Nuggets. While the loss was the Trail Blazers’ sixth in a row at home, they are 9-6 on the road and have won six of their last eight away from the Moda Center. Los Angeles played the Golden State Warriors tough for the second time in four days, but not even Kyle Kuzma’s third big game of the week (27 points and a career-high tying 14 boards Friday) was enough to keep his team from falling for the fourth time in five tries. The No. 27 overall pick in June’s NBA draft did make some history in defeat, however, becoming the first Lakers rookie since Jerry West (1961) to score 25 or more points in three consecutive games.
TV: 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN Northwest (Portland), Spectrum SportsNet Los Angeles
ABOUT THE TRAIL BLAZERS (16-16): Jake Layman drew a rare start in place of the injured Lillard but was quickly removed for Shabazz Napier, who logged a season-high 37 minutes and posted his third straight double-figure scoring game with 14 points, four rebounds, five assists and three steals. CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 15 points, although Friday marked the second straight contest in which he failed to score 20 points after reaching that mark in each of his previous six games. Rookie Zach Collins flashed with a career-high 10 points before fouling out in 18 minutes, while Pat Connaughton enjoyed his most productive game in nearly a month with 12 points in 22 minutes off the bench.
ABOUT THE LAKERS (11-19): Kuzma played more than 40 minutes for the third consecutive game but has remained incredibly efficient over that time, as the 22-year-old is 31-for-48 from the field - including 14-of-22 beyond the arc - while averaging 30 points and nine boards. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (personal) returned to the lineup but managed to shoot just 4-of-16 from the floor - including 1-of-10 from 3-point range - and is expected in every game during the team’s four-game homestand since they will not violate his work-release agreement, which requires him to remain in California during his 25-day sentence for violating parole. Rookie Lonzo Ball connected on a career-high five 3-pointers and finished with 24 points Friday - his second-best scoring effort of the season.
1. After averaging 8.6 points on 32.1-percent shooting over his first 25 outings, Ball is scoring 17.2 points per game on 47 percent from the field in his last five contests.
2. Portland starters combined to score only 35 points against Denver, and all four who logged more than 10 minutes recorded a plus-minus of minus-20 or worse.
3. Los Angeles C Brook Lopez, who tallied 27 points in a 113-110 loss at Portland on Nov. 2, is expected to miss at least the next three weeks with a sprained right ankle.
PREDICTION: Lakers 110, Trail Blazers 100