The Portland Trail Blazers don’t know exactly when Damian Lillard will return from the calf strain he suffered during Wednesday’s home loss to Miami.
All they can do while they hope and wait is pick up as many victories as possible, and one game they most certainly had to have came Friday night at the Moda Center against the rebuilding Houston Rockets.
The Blazers might have taken longer than they should have to put this game away, but they were in control throughout and ultimately won 125-111.
The stories of the night belonged to center Jusuf Nurkic, along with Anfernee Simons and rookie Shaedon Sharpe, the potential faces of the franchise once Lillard’s career ends.
Simons, 23, finished with 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting and hit on 7 of 15 threes. He scored 23 in the first half while making 7 of 11 threes.
Sharpe, 19, made his first NBA start, taking over at shooting guard after Simons replaced Lillard at point guard. Sharpe didn’t disappoint the crowd of 19,082. He scored 10 points in the first half with four coming in a matter of seconds in the second quarter. First, Sharpe scored on a powerful one-handed dunk in traffic. Next, he threw down a two-handed alley-oop dunk set up by a pass from Keon Johnson.
Sharpe, taken No. 7 in the 2022 NBA draft, ended the night with 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting and added two assists.
Nurkic had his best game of the season with 27 points and 15 rebounds. He made 12 of 17 shots and also blocked three shots.
Rockets rookie Jabari Smith Jr., selected third in the 2022 draft, scored 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Blazers moved to 5-1 on the young season while picking up a victory over one of the weaker teams in the league. The schedule is about to become much tougher. After hosting Memphis on Wednesday, the Blazers will play six road games in nine days starting Nov. 4.
Lillard will be reevaluated in a week or two.
IT WAS OVER WHEN
The Rockets couldn’t contain Portland’s offense (53.3% shooting) but they shot well enough (45.5% through three quarters) to stick around the entire game and trailed just 114-105 with 4:36 left. But from that point on, the Blazers clamped down on defense to close out the win.
GARY PAYTON II UPDATE
The Blazers announced on Oct. 13 that guard Gary Payton II would be reevaluated in two weeks after missing the start of the regular season while recovering from core muscle surgery over the summer. Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said Friday that news about Payton is expected to come soon.
“There’s going to be an evaluation here in the coming days,” Billups said. “I think we’re all anticipating the news on that.”
The Blazers have four days off before hosting Memphis at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
— Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).
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