CHICAGO (AP) — The Portland Trail Blazers had dropped three straight games and appeared in danger of losing considerable playoff ground in the tough Western Conference before LaMarcus Aldridge returned to the lineup on Thursday.
Two games later, the Blazers seemed to have turned things following a pair of comfortable wins, the latest a 91-74 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night.
Is the turnaround as easily explained as the return of an All-Star performer? Well, yeah, the Blazers say.
"Other than us getting our best player back, which changes everything, I think our urgency is going up," Damian Lillard said. "After the loss at Orlando (on Tuesday), we realized, 'All right, it's time to turn it around now. We can't wait and we can't have all of these lackadaisical efforts.'
"Everybody's got on the same page and, during these last two games, we've really defended and done everything together."
Mo Williams scored 18 points to lead five Blazers in double figures. Lillard had 16 points, Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez each had 13, Wesley Matthews had 11 and Thomas Robinson added 10.
The Blazers got past the Bulls easily, despite a quiet night from Aldridge, who was playing just his second game after missing two weeks with a back injury. He had five points and 13 rebounds in 29 minutes after having 25 points and 16 rebounds in Atlanta.
"His presence on the court puts pressure on everyone," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "He does a lot more to help us win than just his field-goal percentage."
No one in the Bulls' locker room would disagree.
"He is a load down there; a great player," Joakim Noah said. "You can tell when he is on the court, whether he scores or not. He changes their team. He is one of the best in the game."
Carlos Boozer had 16 points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes to lead Chicago. D.J. Augustin had 15, Taj Gibson 13 and Noah added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The Bulls, who had a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win, lost both games of the season series and have dropped 11 of 13 overall against Portland, including five of seven at the United Center.
Before Friday, the Bulls had been 10-3 in their last 13 home games, averaging 96.8 points on 44.5 percent shooting during that span. But it was apparent early that they wouldn't approach either of those marks in this one.
Continue reading this story on the...