CHICAGO — 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.
In other games Friday night:
Spurs 133, Nuggets 102: DENVER — Marco Belinelli scored 27 points, Tim Duncan had 20 and San Antonio extended their winning streak to 16 games.
Heat 110, Pistons 78: AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — LeBron James had 17 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds to help Miami build a big lead, and then rested in the fourth quarter. It was James’ first triple-double of the season and No. 37 for his career.
Wizards 91, Pacers 78: WASHINGTON — John Wall scored 20 points in Washington’s upset of conference-leading Indiana.
Raptors 105, Celtics 103: TORONTO — Amir Johnson scored the winning basket with seven seconds remaining, and Toronto clinched its first playoff berth in six seasons.
Timberwolves 143, Lakers 107: MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota’s Kevin Love had 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his second career triple-double.
Thunder 94, Kings 81: OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant scored 29 points to extend his streak of scoring at least 25 points to 37 games.
Nets 108, Cavaliers 97: NEW YORK — Paul Pierce scored 17 of his 22 points in a flawless first quarter, and Brooklyn got its 12th straight home victory.
Pelicans 102, Jazz 95: NEW ORLEANS — Tyreke Evans had 22 points and a career-high 15 assists, and the short-handed Pelicans overcame a first-quarter injury to Anthony Davis to extend their winning streak to a season-high five games.
Magic 110, Bobcats 105: ORLANDO, Fla. — Nikola Vucevic had 24 points and 23 rebounds for Orlando, and Jameer Nelson scored five points in overtime.
Warriors 100, Grizzlies 93: OAKLAND, Calif. — Stephen Curry scored 33 points, including a tiebreaking 3-pointer late as Golden State beat Memphis at home for the first time in six meetings.
Suns 112, Knicks 88: PHOENIX — Goran Dragic scored 32 points in 32 minutes and Phoenix won its sixth straight.