Trail Blazers-Magic Preview
Though major offseason personnel losses were expected to reduce the Portland Trail Blazers' chances of competing in a deep Western Conference, their early season struggles can be attributed more to a lack of success against the East.
They'll try to reverse those recent fortunes in interconference play as they continue a road trip Friday night against the improving Orlando Magic.
Despite the departures of star forward LaMarcus Aldridge and three other starters from last season's 51-win team, Portland (11-16) has gone a respectable 10-10 within the loaded West. The Blazers are 1-6 against the East, though, losing 10 of 11 matchups with those teams overall.
Portland has dropped seven straight and 10 of 11 to East teams on the road. That includes a 111-104 loss March 20 to a Magic squad that's been considerably tougher than the one that went 25-57 last season.
Orlando (14-11) has won eight of 11 while showing better efficiency and resiliency under first-year coach Scott Skiles. After a 35-point home loss to Cleveland last Friday, the Magic responded with their best two shooting efforts of the season in back-to-back blowout victories.
The Magic shot 53.9 percent in Monday's 105-82 road win over Brooklyn, then hit 55.8 percent from the field in Wednesday's 113-98 defeat of Charlotte.
''It says a lot that we got back on track,'' guard Elfrid Payton said. ''Sometimes those games are going to happen, but you can't let consecutive losses go on."
Channing Frye's hot streak has spurred the offensive surge. The veteran forward was 5 of 7 from 3-point range and scored a season-high 17 points against the Hornets, two days after going 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.
''We were missing him out there the last couple of games and now we found him,'' Skiles said. ''Opponents have something else to be concerned about and that should open some other guys up.''
Orlando is shooting 51.1 percent on 3s during the win streak and was 14 of 24 on Wednesday.
The most recent win pushed the Magic to 8-4 at Amway Center, a major upgrade over last season's 13-28 mark. They've won three straight at home over Portland, loser of nine of 13 on the road after a 2-1 start.
The Trail Blazers are in the midst of a five-game trip in which they'll face three Southeast Division teams currently above .500. They got the trek off to a rough start by shooting 31.8 percent from inside the arc and a season-low 34.8 percent overall in Wednesday's 106-90 loss to surging Oklahoma City.
"I thought their defense was very good," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "They were very good protecting the basket. They made it difficult for us."
The Blazers have had more success from outside, with guards C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard combining to make eight of 15 from 3-point range. McCollum scored 24 points and has averaged 22.4 while shooting 51.5 percent from beyond the arc in his last five.
Lillard added 20 points but was 0 for 9 in the second half after spraining his ankle in the second quarter. The All-Star point guard still expects to play Friday.