The Portland Trail Blazers didn't need their franchise player, third-leading scorer or most impactful reserve to get a blowout victory on the second leg of a back-to-back Tuesday night, beating the Detroit Pistons 110-92 at Moda Center.
C.J. McCollum led Portland to its wire-to-wire win, scoring 28 points and doling out six assists, both team-highs. But like his depleted team at large, McCollum was somewhat inefficient, going 11-of-26 from the field. The Blazers shot 42.7% overall, including 14-of-42 (33.3%) from beyond the arc. Anfernee Simons needed 14 shots to score 12 points, but played an impressive floor game en route to five assists. Dennis Smith Jr. had 11 points on as many shots in extended minutes.
Jusuf Nurkic and Ben McLemore were the only true offensive bright spots for Portland, though. The former was a physical, patient finisher again on Tuesday, scoring 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting. McLemore more than made the most of his first rotation burn of the regular season, racking up 17 points and four triples in just 19 minutes.
“I feel like we played well, I didn't think we shot it well,” Chauncey Billups said. “You'll definitely take the win when you can get it.”
Portland's exhale of a victory wasn't just so welcome because it ended a three-game losing streak, but because those shooting struggles can be easily explained. The Blazers were without Damian Lillard, Norman Powell and Nassir Little versus the rebuilding Pistons, all sidelined by minor injuries they likely could've played through if the stakes required it.
Billups and company took a different approach, counting on Portland's experience and depth to offset that talent deficit and buy three essential players some rest. It wasn't even 24 hours before tipoff that Lillard keeled over and grabbed at his abdomen in the Blazers' ugly loss to the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.
Portland could've come out flat on its second game in two nights, deflated by overnight travel and the absence of the palpable on-court force provided by Lillard, Powell and Little—not to mention its lackluster competition. Instead, the Blazers fought on both sides of the ball, winning relatively ugly in blowout fashion while holding Detroit to a paltry 92.9 offensive rating.
“I didn't feel like we shot the ball great, but I felt like we played with a lot of urgency and purpose for the most part in the game,” Billups said. “And I'll take that any day.”
Portland, unsurprisingly, chalked up Lillard's absence to “injury management,”. There's no indication Powell's right quad contusion and Little's left ankle sprain will keep them out much longer. The Blazers will be whole again soon.
Just their baseline, all-around competence against a league bottom-dweller down three impact players, though, represents an encouraging start to a four-game homestand.