Two of the premier point guards in the NBA go head-to-head Saturday night when the Portland Trail Blazers visit the Charlotte Hornets.
Both teams will be playing the second half of a back-to-back, with the Trail Blazers having won 95-88 at Orlando on Friday night and the Hornets falling 104-98 at home to Miami.
Damian Lillard’s 21 points led the way at Orlando for the Trail Blazers, who have opened a five-game trip with two straight wins after a loss at Golden State.
Portland began the Eastern portion of its trip with a win at Miami on Wednesday that snapped a five-game losing streak.
CJ McCollum, Lillard’s backcourt sidekick, led the way against the Heat with 28 points, then complemented his teammate’s 21 points with 20 of his own.
Lillard was happy to note afterward that the Portland defense, which was scorched for 103 or more points in all five games of the losing streak, had limited its second straight opponent to 98 or fewer.
“Every year, for every team, adversity hits at some point and I feel like it was just hitting for us,” he said. “We hadn’t been defending well; we hadn’t been playing good offensively.”
Kemba Walker, meanwhile, had 25 points, but they weren’t enough in Friday’s loss to Miami.
The Hornets were opening a four-game homestand that continues Monday against New York and Wednesday against Toronto.
The problem against the Heat was that none of Walker’s teammates scored more than 15 points, and the Charlotte bench got blitzed 51-35 by the Miami backups.
“They showed their depth tonight,” Hornets interim coach Stephen Silas said of the Heat. “They had seven guys in double figures and no one over 16 points. When you play like that, it’s a winning combination.”
Lillard has gotten the better of Walker in their head-to-heads in careers that have mirrored each other in many ways.
Both have played only for one team, with Lillard joining the league in 2012-13 and Walker a year earlier.
The Trail Blazers have gone 7-3 against the Hornets since Lillard was drafted, although the clubs dueled on even terms last season, when both won at home.
Lillard had a game-high 27 points when the Trail Blazers beat the Hornets 115-98 in January in Portland. Walker countered with a team-high 22 points in the loss.
The Portland bench, paced by Meyers Leonard (12 points) and Moe Harkless (10), outscored their Charlotte counterparts 55-41.
Thirteen days earlier, it was Walker with game-high point total (23) in leading the Hornets to a 107-85 home win over the Trail Blazers. Lillard had a team-high 21 points for Portland.
Again, the benches played a key role. This time, the Hornets’ backups got the better of it, 44-22, behind Frank Kaminsky’s 11 points.
The 27- and 21-point outings against the Hornets were the ninth and 10th of Lillard’s career in his 10 games against the Hornets.
Walker, who has gone 3-8 in his career against Portland, has one career double-double (15 points, 11 assists) and four 20-point games in his meetings with the Trail Blazers.
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