Pistons-Trail Blazers Preview
For the time being, the rebuilding process in Portland is off to a good start.
Things have begun well for the Detroit Pistons, too.
Both look to continue their early success Sunday night, when the Trail Blazers try for a fourth consecutive victory by maintaining their recent dominance of the visiting Pistons.
A three-game winning stretch might seem modest, but considering Portland (4-2) lost four starters from a group that reached the playoffs each of the past two seasons, some early optimism has bloomed.
''We've just got to keep on going, and keep playing hard,'' said two-time All-Star Damian Lillard, who has become the centerpiece of the franchise. ''That's where our strength is.''
The Blazers displayed that strength in Thursday's 115-96 win over Memphis. Lillard scored 27 and backcourt mate C.J. McCollum had 20 as Portland shot 50.6 percent and took control by outscoring the Grizzlies 72-48 in the second and third quarters.
"We know we have to come out and fight, be a scrappy team," said forward Meyers Leonard, who shook off a sore ankle to score 14 points in 27 minutes. "Nothing will be handed to us, especially this year."
Portland's averaged 109.7 points on 49.8 percent shooting in the last three games after scoring 98.0 and hitting 43.9 percent of its shots in the first three. While Lillard is among the league leaders at 27.3 points per contest, McCollum is averaging 22.2 in his third season and first as a starter.
''They're a young team, they're athletic,'' Memphis coach David Joerger said.
The Blazers have held their last two opponents to fewer than 100 points after each of the previous three topped that mark.
"We're happy with where we're at but we understand, and I'll say it over and over again, it's about the process," Leonard said. "It's about the grind. Just believe in each other."
The grind continues against Detroit (4-1), which has dropped seven straight at Portland and 11 of 13 overall in the series. However, the Pistons are trying to win five of their first six for the first time since 2007-08 and record their first 3-0 road start since 2005-06.
Tied atop the Eastern Conference at 92.2 points allowed per contest, Detroit held Phoenix to 40.2 percent shooting and shot 49.3 percent in Friday's 100-92 victory. Reggie Jackson had 23 points and Marcus Morris scored 20 against his former team as the Pistons successfully regrouped from Tuesday's 94-82 loss to Indiana.
The Pistons, who lost 17 of their final 21 road games last season, began a stretch of six games in 10 days out west.
"Feels great to start off this way," Jackson, averaging 21.7 points in his last three games, told the Pistons' official website. "It's a tough six-game road trip. We got the first one. We can't worry about the third, fourth, fifth or sixth. We've got to focus on the second."
Detroit's Andre Drummond was held to fewer than 18 points for the first time by finishing with 12 on Friday, but pulled down 17 rebounds - which slightly brought down his league-leading average to 19.0. Drummond's totaled 32 points and 33 rebounds in two games at Portland.
Lillard had 28 points, went 9 of 12 from the field and recorded nine assists in last season's 118-99 home win over Detroit.