Trail Blazers make defensive progress in win vs. Pacers

PORTLAND — First the first time since the start of the regular season, the Portland Trail Blazers had more than one day off between games to prepare for Wednesday night's contest versus the Pacers. And with those two consecutive days of practice, the Trail Blazers focused on improving their defense, which currently ranks as one of the worst in the NBA. If their performance through the first three quarters of Wednesday night is any indication, that extra practice paid off. The Trail Blazers went up by as many as 28 points in the second half before coming away with a 131-109 victory versus the Pacers in front of a crowd of 19,107 at the Moda Center.With the victory, the Trail Blazers move to 10-10 on the season and 6-4 at the Moda Center. Portland has now defeated Indiana in their last five meetings and have won eight-straight at home versus the Eastern Conference squad. Allowing a team to score well over 100 points on 50 percent shooting might not sound like a great defensive performance, but for a team that has struggled to even keep games close, Wednesday night's performance, on both sides of the ball, ranks as a positive.

And to be fair, Portland held Indiana to under 50 percent shooting through the first three quarters before a combination of letting up a bit due to the lead and allowing the bench to play extended minutes gave the Pacers a chance to get some easy buckets. Portland had six players finish in double figures led by Damian Lillard, who put up a double-double of 28 points and 10 assists to go along with five rebounds and four steals in 35 minutes. Maurice Harkless had perhaps his best offensive performance as a Trail Blazer, scoring 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting while also adding two rebounds and two steals. Mason Plumlee put in a yeoman effort with 16 points on 8-of-14 shooting, nine rebounds and six assists in 27 minutes. CJ McCollum scored 15 of Portland's first 17 points in the third quarter to finish with 19. Evan Turner continued a run of strong play, scoring 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting while handing out six assists, grabbing four rebounds and swiping three steals. Allen Crabbe shot 50 percent from the field to finish with 15 points. The Pacers, playing without Paul George, were led by a 25-point, eight-assist effort from Jeff Teague. Next up, the Trail Blazers wrap up a four-game homestand by hosting the Heat Saturday at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.

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