The Portland Trail Blazers introduced point guard Norman Powell and welcomed Jusuf Nurkic on a night where Damian Lillard sat to rest his battered body and won 112-105 against what could be the worst team in the NBA.
Orlando, which traded its top three players (Nikola Vucuvic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier) before Thursday’s trade deadline, struggled vigorously, 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 in the final period to lead the team down the stretch.
But the story of the game was Powell, who set a franchise record for points on a debut with 22 on 7 of 13 shooting and 5 of 7 3-pointers.
“It’s what I’m hoping for,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “He knows how to play the game. Play the way we play. He moves well without the ball. Shoot three. It is in shape. I wouldn’t have said he was going to score 22, but I had a good feeling he would play well for us. “
Powell said he was nervous before the game, but felt good about his debut.
“I was thinking to myself of letting the game come to me and trying to face the other guys and ask as many questions as I can,” Powell said.
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 large amounts of games. However, Stotts would not commit to naming Powell as the starter at this time.
“We will see a lot of things,” Stotts said.
Nurkic also returned after missing 32 games with a broken wrist and then a strained calf. He had a minute restriction and finished with eight points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes.
“More or less what I expected,” Stotts said. “It looked a little rusty. But he made a good effort and I think removing some rust will be good. “
The Blazers (27-18) are tied for fifth 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 just 80-77 into 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 went 7-0. McCollum hit a three after bouncing off a Carmelo Anthony error. Covington made a bullet pass to center Enes Kanter, who was running to the basket, resulting in a layup. Then Powell released the ball from a Magic player, McCollum scooped the ball up and ran down the right side of the court to hit an unopposed triple that missed. But Covington was there for the dunk with a hand that gave the Blazers a 101-94 lead with 4:49 to play.
The Magic held the rest of the way, but the Blazers routinely made a key basket to prevent Orlando from ever having the ball for possession the rest of the way.
With less than a minute left on the clock, McCollum’s determination to the basket against Chuma Okeke resulted in losing him with a lane turn and then hitting a float to give the Blazers a 110-103 lead with 39.9 seconds left.
SHOWN AND SHOWN
Covington hit 4 of 6 shots with 3 of 5 triples to reach 15 points to accompany eight rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots.
Anfernee Simons came off the bench for 25 minutes and made 5 of 7 shots (all three) to finish with 15 points.
Kanter returned to his backup role behind Nurkic and came off the bench to score 15 points and grab 15 rebounds in 29 minutes. He made 7 of 10 shots.
SHOWN AND FIZZLED
McCollum scored 22 points but made just 8 of 26 field goal attempts and 2 of 11 triples.
Nassir Little played 18 minutes from the bench and missed all four of his shot attempts to finish with zero points.
NEXT UP (Blazers schedule)
Portland’s four-game road 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-point attempts. Hood came off the bench to score two points in 18 minutes.
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