Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, left, drives to the basket against New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
PORTLAND, Ore. — Brandon Ingram stole the spotlight from the anticipated reunion between Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Ingram had a season-high 40 points and the New Orleans Pelicans beat Portland 121-110 on Wednesday night in the first on-court meeting between Lillard and former Trail Blazers teammate McCollum.
McCollum finished with 24 points to help the Pelicans snap a four-game losing streak while Lillard scored 41 points for the Blazers.
“It’s cool to compete against your peers and your friends and the people that you respect and have worked with,” McCollum said. “That’s what the game is about. It’s about respecting the game, playing hard and giving all you got.”
Lillard pumped both fists while he was down on the court after making a tough floater late in the third quarter, and he added a free throw to give the Blazers an 85-80 lead.
Portland had a 91-90 edge heading into the final quarter. But Ingram had back-to-back jumpers that gave New Orleans a 108-99 lead midway through the period. Naji Marshall added a layup to extend the lead as Portland went cold from the field.
Ingram’s layup with 2:55 left gave the Pelicans a 114-101 lead and all but sealed the victory. Afterward, the Pelicans enjoyed a loud celebration in the team’s locker room.
“I’m extremely proud of Brandon. I thought on one of the biggest stages, a national televised game, he comes out and he dominates. And that’s what we need from him,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “He’s one of the better players in the league and when we put the ball in his hands, makes great decisions, finds his teammates. Him and CJ both, they just put us on their back and they carried us.”
The game marked the first time that Lillard and McCollum played against each other after some nine years together in Portland’s backcourt.
McCollum was traded to New Orleans at last season’s trade deadline. Lillard was injured at the time and did not play in the two meetings between the two teams after the trade.
Lillard was also absent for Portland’s visit to New Orleans earlier this season because of injury management.
Now both the Blazers and the Pelicans are caught in a logjam of teams fighting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. After the victory, New Orleans was sitting in 10th place, ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Blazers, who fell to 12th.
Portland was coming off a disheartening loss to the Golden State Warriors the night before, squandering a 23-point lead for a 123-105 loss.
But Lillard said he was still hopeful for the postseason.
“I think right now just a lot of these games are going in our favor. Played well last night, they take over the game in the second half. Play well again tonight, they beat us down the stretch. A lot of times, and it’s not guaranteed, but a lot of times it eventually comes back and you start to win some of these games,” Lillard said. “That’s why I feel like is it’s possible for us, some of these games start swinging back in our favor.
Portland welcomed back guard Anfernee Simons, who missed three games because of a right ankle sprain. He started but appeared to tweak the ankle late in the third quarter and headed to the locker room.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Simons and Lillard put Portland up 67-59 early in the second half.
Pelicans: Jonas Valanciunas was ruled out of the game because of a left calf contusion. Josh Richardson was questionable with a quad contusion but started. … It was the first of a three-game West Coast swing.
Trail Blazers: Portland remains without Jusuf Nurkic, who has missed the last 11 games with a left calf strain. Ask when he might return, Billups said: “I’m not sure, he’s started to get on the court and everything, so to me that’s a great sign. So I’m hoping sooner rather than later.”
Pelicans: At Golden State on Friday night.
Trail Blazers: At Atlanta on Friday night to open a six-game trip.
LOS ANGELES — LeBron James scored 19 points off the bench in his return from a monthlong injury absence, but Zach LaVine scored 32 points to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 118-108 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
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