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Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers

PORTLAND — There’s an old adage that the first home game after an extended road trip is one of the hardest games to win in the NBA. While that might often be the case, it luckily didn’t play out that way for the Trail Blazers.

In their return to Portland after a four-game road trip, the Trail Blazers dispatched the Phoenix Suns 118-111 in front of a crowd of 18,604 Tuesday night at the Moda Center.

With the win, the Trail Blazers improve to 23-21 overall and 11-10 at home this season. The win also ends Portland’s three-game losing streak, extends their home winning streak to four games and is their sixth straight win versus the Suns.

While Portland looked like the better team in Tuesday’s contest from the jump, making their first eight shots overall and five of their first seven three-point attempts, the Suns were up for the challenge, shooting 57 percent behind 13 first-quarter points from Devin Booker. Between Booker’s shooting and 10 fastbreak points, the Suns were able to go into the second quarter trailing by just five.

But the Trail Blazers were able to get some separation in the second quarter thanks to seemingly nonstop barrage from three. Portland would outscore Phoenix by 10 in the quarter and shot better than 50 percent from both the field and three in the first half to take a 66-51 lead into the intermission.

And when the Trail Blazers started the second half by scoring the first eight points, which, along with the final six points that they scored in the second quarter, turned into a 14-0 run that gave the home team a 74-51 lead early in the third quarter. That lead would extend to as many as 27 before the Trail Blazers took a 92-72 advantage into the fourth quarter.

“I thought the second quarter we really gave ourselves some cushion, locked in on the defensive end and our ball movement, it continued,” said Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. “Going into the half, you always talk about how big the first five minutes of the third quarter is when you have a team down and I thought this was one of our best coming out of the half and being able to keep a team down, going into the fourth up 20.”

The Suns did what NBA teams often do in the fourth quarter of what looked like a blowout by taking advantage of Terry Stotts’ attempt to rest his starters, but the Trail Blazers were able to hit just enough shots and duck just enough Devin Booker three-pointers to come away with the seven-point victory.

“It’s a shame that the five or six minutes in the fourth quarter kind of put a damper on what was a really good game for us,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We did a lot of good things. Offensively, we shared the ball, set good screens. Defensively, in the second and third quarter, we were very good. Disappointed I had to put basically the starters back in the game, but they held on to it.”

TOP SCORERS

The Trail Blazers were led by Damian Lillard, who went 11-of-19 from the field and 4-of-8 from three for 31 ppints to go with seven assists, five rebounds and a steal in 36 minutes.

CJ McCollum went 9-of-18 from the field and 6-of-10 from three for 27 points, three rebounds, two assists, and three steals in 36 minutes. Four of Al-Farouq Aminu’s five made shots came from three, with the forward finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes.

Evan Turner added 12 points in 27 minutes and Shabazz Napier came off the bench to finish with 11 points, six assists and three rebounds in 20 minutes.

Suns guard Devin Booker led all scorers with 43 points on 14-of-29 shooting from the field, 5-of-12 shooting from three and 10-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. Troy Daniels came off the bench to score 18, with all of those points come from three.

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Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers

As the Portland Trail Blazers fled the visiting locker room at Oracle Arena Monday night, there was a simple sentiment lingering in the aftermath of their failed fourth-quarter rally against the Golden State Warriors. Get one win and see where things go from there.

“We’re going through … an identity crisis,” CJ McCollum said. “We’ve got a lot of injuries right now. Guys are playing different roles, (moving) in-and-out of the rotation. I think once you start winning again, the game becomes easier and it becomes more fun.”

So one win might be enough to snap the Blazers out of their funk?

“Yeah,” McCollum said, exhaling. “That would be nice. That would be nice.”

It remains to be seen if the cure to the Blazers’ myriad issues is truly that simple, but at this point, anything would help. The Blazers’ 111-104 loss to the Warriors was their fifth in a row, a surprising stretch that has dropped them to 13-13 on the season and prompted a restless fan base to grow uneasy.

Injuries to center Jusuf Nurkic (right ankle) and Moe Harkless (left quad) — who have missed the last two games — haven’t helped. But even when the Blazers were at full-strength, they were infuriatingly inconsistent, a trait that seems to be part of their DNA.

Losing streaks aside, there’s no shame in dropping consecutive games to the Houston Rockets (21-4) and Warriors (22-6), the hottest teams in the NBA who have won a combined 17 games in a row and feature the best records in the Western Conference. If anything, the Blazers left Oakland encouraged after going toe-to-toe with the Rockets for three-and-a-half quarters and finishing strong against the Warriors, against whom they outscored 29-18 in the fourth quarter to rally from a 24-point deficit and make things interesting down the stretch.

“We didn’t play defeated basketball,” Damian Lillard said. “Even though they got away from us a little bit, we never let that turn into us looking defeated or playing defeated. I thought we kept competing, we kept trusting each other, we made a lot of plays for each other and the shots didn’t go in. We still competed on the defensive end. We had our chance down the stretch, we just built too much of a hole to climb out of.”

Of course, the Warriors played without All-Stars Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and starter Zaza Pachulia, so the Blazers were facing a far less lethal version of the reigning NBA champions. And no matter how you sugarcoat things, the Blazers still feature the NBA’s second-longest current losing streak and an underperforming roster.

The good news is that the schedule eases a bit as the Blazers navigate the final four games of a five-game, eight-day trip. They visit the Miami Heat Wednesday and play a back-to-back against the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets, before ending with a matchup at the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Heat (13-13) are plodding along at the same pace as the Blazers and the Magic (11-17) and Hornets (10-16) have been stalled by injuries.

If there ever was a time to break out of a funk — to get that one win — it’s now.

COLLINS GETS CHANCE

Injuries to Nurkic and Harkless have created a spot in the rotation for Zach Collins and the 7-foot rookie big man has offered a glimpse of why the Blazers traded for him on draft night.

Over the last two games, Collins has played at least 19 minutes — including a career-high 25 against the Warriors — and given a little bit of everything, recording 14 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks, while making 6 of 14 shots, against the best teams in the Western Conference.

He was an integral part of the Blazers’ comeback bid against Golden State, playing nearly 10 minutes in the fourth quarter to help the Blazers claw back to within single digits. Collins opened the quarter with a steal, nailed a turnaround jumper on the other end, and seemed to be everywhere in the final period, chasing down rebounds (four), snatching steals (two) and creating for teammates (two assists). When he finished an alley-oop layup off a pass from Lillard with 2:56 left, the Blazers trailed 109-100 and had a fighter’s chance.

But 41 seconds later, Collins was whistled for an illegal screen, collecting his sixth foul and ending his night prematurely. He finished with nine points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists — all career highs — while playing solid defense.

“I thought he played well,” McCollum said. “He was aggressive. He got the rookie treatment on a lot of screens that the rest of the league sets every night. But besides that, I think he rebounded the ball well. He wasn’t afraid and he made some good plays for us.”

Lillard said he’s been impressed with the confidence of a player who had only seen the floor a combined 13 minutes in 15 games before facing the Rockets.

“You’re talking about a rookie that hasn’t played a lot up until recently and he’s having to learn a lot of things on the floor because he hasn’t seen a lot of action,” Lillard said. “He’s having to listen to (Evan Turner), listen to me, listen to CJ. So many guys are telling him different things that he needs to do. And he’s taking it all on the fly. He’s doing a good job, he’s being assertive and aggressive. And I think that’s the best thing about it — he’s still able to be productive and kind of do what everybody’s asking him to do at the same time.”

MCCOLLUM EASES OUT OF SLUMP

After laboring through a four-game shooting slump, McCollum is starting to  rediscover his jumper.

Heading into the loss to the Rockets, McCollum had made just 25 of 73 field goals (34 percent), including 5 of 20 three-pointers (25 percent), during an ice-cold four-game stretch. But he went 11 of 21 from the field against the Rockets, then 8 of 14 against the Warriors, easing out of his slump.

His three-point stroke remains off — he’s 3 of 11 from long-range the last two games — but he’s finally snapping out of his funk.

“I feel all right,” he said. “Even when I wasn’t shooting well, I felt all right. The ball just wasn’t going in.”v

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Another Western Conference playoff hopeful. Another game that came down to the wire.

The Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Memphis Grizzlies, 98-97, Tuesday night at the Moda Center in yet another game that came down to crunch time.

But unlike last-second wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder, the Blazers couldn’t conjure up any late game magic against the Grizzlies.

CJ McCollum scored 14 of his game-high 36 points in the final quarter, but he needed one more bucket to cap a dazzling late game performance. He carried the Blazers for most of the night, keeping Portland in range while Damian Lillard (4-for-16) and Jusuf Nurkic (3-for-9) never got untracked.

The Blazers struggled to slow Memphis forward Tyreke Evans (21 points on 15 shots) and committed a crucial turnover in final minute. And yet still had a chance to pull the game out in the waning seconds.

After McCollum hit a three-pointer to trim Memphis’ lead to one with 12.6 seconds left and then Shabazz Napier forced a turnover, giving the Blazers a final possession.

McCollum missed a pull-up mid-range jumper short and then failed to get a second shot off after he chased down his own miss.

McCollum scored 35 points on 14-for-26 shooting, including 4-for-10 from beyond the arc. Evan Turner added 16 points off the bench and Napier had his best game of the season, scoring 12 points and coming away with the crucial defensive play late when he pressured Mike Conley on an inbounds pass in the final seconds.

Conley scored all 20 of his points in the second half, Mark Gasol added 16 points, five rebounds and four assists and Evans finished with 21 points, getting into the lane at will all night.

THEY SAID IT

“If we can get a shot like that for CJ to win the game, I’ll take it every time,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “It was a great look.”

TURNING POINT

Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks reached in for a steal on Ed Davis, poking the ball away with 39 seconds left and triggering a fast break. Brooks finished in transition on the other end, drawing a foul and adding a free throw to put the Grizzlies up 96-91.

HOMECOMING

Brooks, the former University of Oregon standout, played his first professional game in Portland with his former coach in attendance. Oregon Ducks coach Dana Altman sat courtside across from the Grizzlies bench to watch Brooks make his third consecutive start. Brooks, the No. 45 pick in the June draft, finished with seven points and eight rebounds in 38 minutes.

Brooks was a part of Memphis’ two biggest plays of the game. His steal with 39 seconds left put the Blazers into scramble mode late. Then on the game’s final possession he defended McCollum’s initial jumper then chased the Blazers’ star down in the corner, preventing a second attempt before the buzzer.    NEXT UP

The Blazers host the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night at 7 p.m. in Allen Crabbe’s first game back at the Moda Center since he was traded in the offseason.