The Portland Trail Blazers introduced guard Norman Powell and once again hosted Jusuf Nurkic on a night when Damian Lillard sat down to rest his battered body and won 112-105 against what could be the worst team in the NBA.
Orlando, who traded his top three players (Nikola Vucuvic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier) before Thursday’s trade deadline, fought enthusiastically but the Blazers found a way to win.
Robert Covington scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and McCollum added seven of his 22 points in the final period to lead the team down the home stretch.
But the story of the game was Powell, who set a franchise record for points on his debut with 22 of 7 of 13 shots while making 5 of 7 of threes.
“That’s what I’m expecting,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “He knows how to play the game. He plays like we play. He moves well without the ball. He draws three. He is in shape. I wouldn’t have said he was going to score 22, but I had a feeling he would play well for us.
Powell said he was nervous before the game but felt good about his debut.
“I was just thinking to myself to let the game come to me and try to play the other guys and ask as many questions as possible,” said Powell.
Stotts said Lillard would “hopefully” return Sunday against Toronto, the team that traded Powell to the Blazers for Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood. The plan, Stotts said, is to go with a three-guard lineup with Lillard, McCollum and Powell for big chunks of play. However, Stotts would not commit to appointing Powell as a starter at this time.
“We’ll be looking at a lot of things,” Stotts said.
Nurkic also returned after missing 32 games with a broken wrist and then a strained calf. He was on a minute restriction and finished with eight points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes.
“Pretty much what I expected,” Stotts said. “He looked a little rusty. But he made a good effort and I think it will be good to remove some of the rust.
WHAT THIS MEANS
The Blazers (27-18) are tied for fifth place in the Western Conference with Denver (27-18). The Nuggets won 113-108 in New Orleans on Friday night.
IT WAS OVER WHEN
Miraculously, the Blazers led only 80-77 before the fourth quarter against the exhausted Magic (15-30). Portland built a 94-88 lead after Robert Covington hit a three, but the Magic came back and tied the game at 94-94 with 6:31 left.
That’s when the Blazers started a 7-0 run. McCollum hit a three after bouncing off a failed Carmelo Anthony. Covington passed the ball to center Enes Kanter, who was sprinting towards the basket, resulting in a layup. Then Powell hit a Magic player’s ball, McCollum picked up the ball and ran to the right side of the field to shoot an unchallenged three that missed. But Covington was there for the one-handed dunk that gave the Blazers a 101-94 lead with 4:49 to go.
The Magic dragged the rest of the way, but the Blazers regularly crafted a key basket to keep Orlando from having the ball in possession the rest of the time.
With less than a minute on the clock, McCollum’s determined drive towards the basket against Chuma Okeke caused him to lose with a spinning motion in the lane, then hit a float to give the Blazers a 110-103 lead with 39.9 seconds to play.
MONTRE AND MONTRE
Covington had 4 of 6 shots with 3 of 5 threes to reach 15 points to go with eight rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots.
Anfernee Simons came off the bench to play 25 minutes and managed 5 of 7 shots (all three) to finish with 15 points.
Kanter returned to his role as a substitute behind Nurkic and came off the bench to score 15 points and grab 15 rebounds in 29 minutes. He made 7 of the 10 shots.
MONTRE AND FIZZLED
McCollum scored 22 points but only managed 8 of 26 field goal attempts and 2 of 11 threes.
Nassir Little played 18 minutes on the bench and missed all four of his attempts to finish with zero points.
NEXT (Blazers schedule)
Portland’s four-game trip continues Sunday against Toronto (18-17) in Tampa, where the Blazers will face Trent and. Hood. The Raptors lost 104-100 to Phoenix (30-14) on Friday. Trent started on his Toronto debut and scored eight points on 4 of 11 shots while missing all five of his three-pointers. Hood came off the bench to score two runs in 18 minutes.
– Aaron Fentress | [email protected] | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).
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