Now torrid Trail Blazers host Mavericks
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PORTLAND, Ore. -- In November and December, the Portland Trail Blazers lost six straight games at Moda Center, which hadn't happened since April 2006.
On Saturday night, the Trail Blazers will be going for their sixth straight home victory when they play host to the Dallas Mavericks.
That's more like it, said point guard Damian Lillard.
"We're locked in a little bit more now," Lillard said. "We just had a rough stretch. We're not the first team or the last team to have that. The important thing is to stay with it. It's never as good or as bad as it seems."
Portland (24-21) is always better with a strong performance from center Jusuf Nurkic, and the Blazers got one in their 100-86 romp past the Indiana Pacers Thursday night at home. The 7-foot Bosnian scored 19 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, dominating the middle against an Indiana team going without injured center Myles Turner.
Nurkic came to Portland in a deal with Denver at the February trade deadline last season.
"It's almost a year since I got here," he said, mindful of the impact he made late in the 2016-17 regular season for the Blazers. "It will be February soon. I have to pick up where I left off (last season). It's about time to make another run for the playoffs. Tonight, it just clicked."
Dallas (15-30) has lost two in a row and five of the last seven. The Mavericks have played a number of close games but have been hampered by faulting foul shooting down the stretch.
The Mavericks are a 77 percent foul-shooting team for the season. But in the final minute of games within five points, they shoot only .593. They are 7-23 in games in which they were within five points in the final five minutes.
"It's been a factor," coach Rick Carlisle told the Dallas Morning New. "We also have uncharacteristic misses during the course of the first three quarters that contribute to big challenges at the end of games. It's something we're addressing. We should be a very good free throw shooting team."
There are reasons. Veteran Dirk Nowitzki, an outside foul shooter, is no longer guaranteed to be out there at the end of a close game. Rookie Dennis Smith (.703) shot poorly early in the season, though he has been at 76 percent over the last 14 games. Harrison Barnes (.833) has even missed some in the clutch.
"We have to improve," Barnes said. "I missed big free throws down the stretch. And most of our games are close. There are not too many times when we're getting blown out. So each of those free throws matter. We just have to do a better job."
Dallas reserve guard J.J. Barea (groin) is questionable, though he practiced Thursday and Carlisle was optimistic he'll be able to go Saturday night.
Updated January 20, 2018