Hornets-Trail Blazers Preview
By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- While No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis has held his own when healthy, Damian Lillard is looking every bit like the NBA's top rookie.
As Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers try to match their best streak of the season, Davis looks to help the visiting New Orleans Hornets avoid equaling their worst Sunday night.
Selected sixth overall out of Weber State, Lillard continues to turn heads with averages of 18.9 points, 6.4 assists and 2.2 3-pointers to lead all first-year players.
"I'm not really surprised right now about Damian," teammate Nicolas Batum told the Blazers' official website. "I was surprised a couple of weeks ago."
Lillard was in a groove Thursday, posting season highs of 29 points and seven rebounds to go along with six assists in a 98-90 win over San Antonio.
"I think I've had a few better games even though this is the most points I've scored," he said. "I think this was the best I've done in a game we really needed."
While J.J. Hickson had 12 points and 12 rebounds for his fourth consecutive double-double and LaMarcus Aldridge scored 22, it was Lillard who left a lasting impression on Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
"I think he's a wonderful player," Popovich said. "His skills are obvious, but I like his demeanor as much as I like his skills. He really plays within himself, he's not afraid of contact and he really understands how to take advantage of situations."
Davis hasn't been able to make the same impression because he has been on the court so infrequently, limited to nine games due to injuries. He's averaged 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds off the bench in three games after missing 11 due to a sore left ankle. Before that injury, he started all six of his games while averaging 16.0 points and 8.3 boards.
Davis does lead all rookies with 2.2 blocks per game, but the Hornets (5-17) have lost the last six games he's played and are riding a six-game losing streak overall. They dropped seven in a row Nov. 14-25.
The Blazers (10-12) won a season-high three straight Nov. 13-18 and can equal that streak Sunday. They've won five of six at the Rose Garden, going 2-1 on their current six-game homestand.
"Now we have to finish this week," Batum said. "We have a game Sunday against New Orleans so we can finish this week with three in a row. We have a huge stretch at home, three more games at home before we go on the road, so if we can get these three and get back to .500, it can be good."
Portland has to like its chances of keeping things going with New Orleans coming to town. The Western Conference-worst Hornets have dropped four straight in this series and 15 of 17 overall.
Their woes continued Friday in a 113-102 loss to Minnesota. New Orleans shot a season-high 53.8 percent but was outscored 70-42 in the paint and allowed the Timberwolves to shoot 53.4 percent.
"Our defense is not even close to what we are used to around here," said coach Monty Williams, whose team opens a four-game road trip Sunday. "I need to do a better job and get in there and figure out which guys are going to fight for this organization; that is not something that we are seeing on a consistent basis."
Rookie Austin Rivers had a season-high 27 points Friday while Greivis Vasquez scored 15 and dished out a career-best 17 assists.
"We needed this win right before we hit this road trip," Rivers said. "We're playing some tough teams on the road, but it is what it is. There's nothing we can do about it now. We just have to keep our heads up. It's a long season and anything can turn it around."
Updated December 16, 2012