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Blazers hope to remain above .500, welcome Pistons to town

Dec 30, 2022; San Francisco, California, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) reacts after committing a turnover against the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter at the Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers maintained a winning record throughout December, though they’re in danger of falling to the .500 mark if they lose at home to the Detroit Pistons on Monday.

The Blazers have dropped four of their last five games, including a 118-112 defeat to defending champion Golden State on Friday.

Portland coach Chauncey Billups was limited to an eight-man rotation due to illness and injuries. Starting center Jusuf Nurkic and reserves Keon Johnson and Greg Brown III were too sick to play, while second unit fixtures Nassir Little (hip) and Justise Winslow (ankle) were nursing ailments.

The Trail Blazers were outscored 16-2 in the last five minutes.

“I had to play these guys so many minutes, I know everybody was just exhausted, just tired,” Billups said. “I tried everything. I blew every timeout I had. Tried to get them some rest. It was just very tough at the end. They got faster and they got a little tougher because they got some stops in a row. The guys were just done. They were just drained.”

The players who started accounted for 95 of the team’s points, led by Damian Lillard with 34. Portland committed six turnovers in the fourth quarter against the Warriors, who were also missing two starters.

“Even with us being tired, we just didn’t play smart enough down the stretch,” Billups said. “Turnovers. Tough shots. Bad shots against this team is like a turnover because they can get out and score so easily on you.”

Jerami Grant, who was traded by Detroit during the offseason for draft assets, will be facing his former team for the first time since arriving in Portland. Grant is averaging 22 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

The Pistons still have the league’s worst record, but they’ve won two of their last three games to reach the 10-win mark.

They captured a 116-104 road victory against Minnesota on Saturday, outscoring the Timberwolves 66-40 in the second half.

Starter Bojan Bogdanovic, as usual, led the team in scoring with 28 points.

However, the second unit proved to be the difference. A handful of reserves scored in double digits, contributing 65 points in all.

“It’s about the second unit’s character,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “We have a lot of character guys in the group that hadn’t been getting a lot of run, but they came in and played with pure heart, pure mind and won the game for us.”

Marvin Bagley III led that group with 18 points. Alec Burks had 13, Hamidou Diallo tossed in 12 and Cory Joseph and Rodney McGruder added 11 apiece.

Burks, acquired from the New York Knicks in an offseason deal, has provided a big spark off the bench. He’s averaging 14 points in 21.5 minutes per game.

The 31-year-old McGruder, who has been out of the rotation most of the season, played a season-high 23 minutes against Minnesota.

Starting guard Killian Hayes will serve the final game of a three-game suspension for striking Orlando’s Moritz Wagner from behind during a skirmish on Wednesday. The Pistons are in the midst of a five-game road trip.

–Field Level Media