If the Trail Blazers are going to turn their season around, it is going to have to come in little steps.
Perhaps the first step was taken Tuesday when Portland beat Charlotte 115-98 to record its first winning month since going 2-1 in October.
Behind a hot start from Damian Lillard and a boost off the bench from Allen Crabbe, the Blazers won for the fourth time in five games and put the finishing touches on an 8-7 record in January.
Coach Terry Stotts, however, when asked if he puts any stock in a winning month replied: "Nope.''
Lillard had 27 points and Crabbe 21 points as the Blazers (22-28) kept pace with Denver (22-25) in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Blazers moved within a game of the Nuggets (who were trailing at the Lakers), but are playing arguably their best basketball of the season, which has been spurred by the insertion of Evan Turner and Noah Vonleh into the starting lineup. The Blazers are 4-2 with the new lineup and have won three of the first four games in this five-game homestand.
Charlotte (23-26) lost its fifth consecutive game despite a solid game from former Blazers wing Nicolas Batum (18 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and 22 points from Kemba Walker. Portland avenged a 107-85 loss in Charlotte on Jan. 18 and won its ninth consecutive home game over the Hornets.
Portland broke away from a 56-50 halftime lead after Charlotte played dreadfully coming out of halftime. The Hornets began the half making only three of 15 shots, and coupled with three turnovers, found themselves trailing by 15 midway through the third. All told, the Hornets were outscored 30-18 in the third and trailed 86-68 heading into the fourth.
"I liked the way we played,'' Stotts said. "I thought in the first half we should have had a larger lead than we did.''
The Blazers had their halftime lead after Lillard had a big first quarter (14 points) and Crabbe a prolific second quarter (14 of his 16). Portland had leads as large as 14, but frittered it away with some shaky passing that opened the door for Charlotte to get hot behind Kemba Walker.
Portland started 0-for-8 and 1-for-11, but remarkably still had a 6-4 lead after Lillard and McCollum hit three’s and Charlotte kept taking shots early in the shot clock.
Mason Plumlee had seven points and 11 rebounds and had snapped his string of five straight double-doubles. Al-Farouq Aminu added 10 rebounds and Vonleh also added 10 rebounds.
Next up: Dallas at Blazers, 7:30 p.m. Friday (KGW/ESPN)