Trail Blazers-Lakers Preview
The Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers are both rebuilding around young point guards, though one is years ahead in his development.
All-Star Damian Lillard will get his first look at Lakers rookie D'Angelo Russell on Sunday night when the visiting Trail Blazers seek their sixth straight win in the series.
Portland reached the postseason in five of the previous six seasons before facing a crossroads when star LaMarcus Aldridge left for San Antonio in the offseason.
The Blazers still have Lillard at the center of their young core, and he helped them get off to a 4-2 start before reality set in during a recent seven-game losing streak.
Lillard then finished with 27 points Friday after hitting three key 3-pointers in the final quarter to help Portland (5-9) pull off its biggest win so far with a 102-91 home victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. C.J. McCollum and Mason Plumlee had 18 points apiece, while former Laker Ed Davis added 17 points and 15 rebounds.
"I think we had a lot of games lately where we played well and then we can't find a way to win it, can't find a way to finish the game," Lillard told the team's official website. "We did a much better job of putting together a complete game."
Lillard, scoring a career-best 25.2 points per game, has averaged 28.4 while shooting 17 of 37 (45.9 percent) during the team's five-game winning streak against the Lakers.
McCollum, second on the team with 20.1 points per game, had a career-high 27 in the most recent matchup April 4 when the Blazers claimed the Northwest Division title with a 107-77 rout at Staples Center.
The Lakers (2-10) were on their way to the worst record in franchise history while missing the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1976. Their futility landed them Russell with the second overall pick in this year's draft.
The point guard has been inconsistent, averaging 10.2 points on 39.8 percent shooting and 2.7 assists, but he's coming off arguably his best game with a season-high 17 points and 3-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc in Friday's 102-91 home loss to Toronto.
"I think at times you've got to leave him alone and at other times you have to talk with him. But I've got to treat him like a man," coach Byron Scott said. "Sometimes that might be a little harsh, but he's got to learn."
Julius Randle, the seventh selection in 2014, had 18 points and 12 rebounds in the team's second straight defeat after scoring 7.5 per game over his previous six.
Los Angeles still has superstar Kobe Bryant, though he hasn't come close to performing like the player he was during his glory years. He had a season-low 10 points in a season-high 37 minutes Friday after missing three of the previous five due to various injuries.
The 37-year-old has totaled 87 points over his last two meetings with Portland, though those matchups came at the end of the 2012-13 season.
Fellow guard Jordan Clarkson, who is likely to help Russell defend Lillard, has scored a combined 44 in his last two games against the Blazers. He's also averaged 17.8 points while making 8 of 15 from 3-point range over his last four overall.
Portland has won a franchise-best four straight road games in this series.