Trail Blazers take on skidding Suns


PHOENIX -- Portland had little trouble with the hottest team in the NBA on Friday.

Next up, the coldest.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 50 points and six 3-pointers when the Trail Blazers limited Utah to 17 points in each of the final three quarters in an 100-81 victory Friday.

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The Blazers (33-26) never trailed while breaking the Jazz's 11-game winning streak.

Next up, a team that never led.

Phoenix gave up the first 19 points and trailed 24-2 six minutes into a 128-117 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday. It was never that close.

The Suns (18-42) have lost a season-long eight in a row, 13 of 14 and 16 of 18 in a downturn that began after a 114-100 victory over Oklahoma City on Jan. 7.

The Blazers remained tied with Denver for sixth place in the it-can-change-daily Western Conference standings. They are one-half game ahead of New Orleans, 1 1/2 ahead ahead the Clippers and now three ahead of Utah.

"I think it showed what our mentality is and where our focus is, and that's coming in here and making this push so we can get back to the postseason," Lillard told the (Portland) Oregonian.

Portland, which has won four of five and eight of 12, could use the next few weeks as a springboard toward a positive playoff push.

The Blazers play eight of their next nine at home, including games against contenders Minnesota, Oklahoma City, Golden State and Cleveland.

"We understand what's at stake now," McCollum told reporters. "One game, a loss or a win, could sway the Western Conference playoff race."

Lillard can make some franchise history on two fronts in Phoenix on Saturday. He made two three-pointers against the Jazz and has made at least one three in 41 straight games, tied with Cliff Robinson for the longest streak in franchise. Lillard set the record, 42, last season.

He has made his last 54 free throws, the longest of his career and three short of Damon Stoudamire's franchise record set in 2004-05.

Lillard is sixth in the league with a 26.0 scoring average and McCollum is 23rd at 21.9. They are the highest-scoring guard tandem in the league, and the only backcourt teammates averaging at least 21 points a game.

"They're playing high-level and they just beat Utah, which was playing the best basketball of the season," Suns guard Devin Booker said.

"They have talented guards, so it's going to be a tough matchup. We have to come out and be the aggressors. Worry about ourselves and I think we'll be in good shape

Portland is 16-15 on the road. The Suns are 9-21 at home.

Since beating Dallas on Jan. 31, the Suns are 0-for-February and have been outscored by 181 points in eight defeats. They have lost by 32, 48, and 26 points in that run, and their 48-point loss to San Antonio on Feb. 7 tied a franchise-worst set against Portland on opening night.

"Inexcusable," interim coach Jay Triano said of the listless start against the Clippers.

"We knew that they're an 'iso' team and they were going to put it down and drive it right at us. They did and we couldn't keep anyone in front of us.

"We practice downstairs, we'll kill each other. We jump in front. We do everything. When the lights come on, I don't know if it's nerves, fear, experience, we just back up, back up, back up, and give in ... we 'ole' and let them go right past us to the rim."

The Blazers have won the first three games of the season series, two in the first six games of the season.

Lillard is averaging 27.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 7.0 assists against the Suns this season and McCollum is averaging 25 points, four rebounds and four assists.

Booker is averaging 29.7 points in the series. He had 43 points, six rebounds and eight assists in the last meeting, a 118-111 Portland homer victory on Jan. 16. He made 5-of-12 3-pointers and all 10 free-throw attempts in that game.

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