Portland guard Anfernee Simons began breaking out as a go-to scorer last season after Damian Lillard’s season-ending abdominal injury and the trade of CJ McCollum.
He’s scoring at will again while Lillard is sidelined with a right calf injury and will look to top 35 points for the third time in five games when the Trail Blazers host the Indiana Pacers on Sunday night.
Simons scored a career-high 45 points on Saturday night as Portland registered a 116-111 victory over the host Utah Jazz. He was 15 of 25 from the field — including 7 of 12 from 3-point range — and made all eight of his free-throw attempts to help the Trail Blazers win for just the second time in nine games.
“He had it really going,” Portland head coach Chauncey Billups said. “We kind of exploited their coverage a little bit with his shot-making. The guys did a really good job continuing to feed him and finding him.”
Simons scored 38 points in a 132-129 overtime victory over the host New York Knicks on Nov. 25. Two games later, he scored 37 points in a 118-112 home loss against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Simons averaged 17.3 points last season in his fourth NBA campaign and took off after Lillard played his final game on Dec. 31.
Simons averaged 23.1 points in 15 January games and 23.7 in 10 February outings to display he could be a lead scoring guard. He sustained a left knee injury in early March and was eventually shut down for the season.
Meanwhile, Lillard is aiming to return Sunday after missing the past seven games.
“I hope so,” Billups said. “I hope so.”
Portland’s Jerami Grant added 33 points against Utah for his third 30-point outing in the past five games.
Indiana has dropped its last two games and allowed a season worst for points in both road contests.
First, the Pacers lost 137-114 to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, and then fell 139-119 to the Jazz on Friday.
The two lopsided setbacks are part of a stretch in which Indiana has lost four of its past six games after posting a 10-6 record to open the season.
“As a young group, it’s so easy to splinter and go your separate ways,” guard Tyrese Haliburton said after the loss to the Jazz. “We just have got to get closer through things like this.”
Haliburton had a season-low four assists against Utah as his franchise-record streak of seven straight games of 10 or more reached an end. He leads the NBA with a 10.9 average.
However, Haliburton is dealing with left groin soreness and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
Haliburton was just 5-of-16 shooting and scored 14 points against Utah. Myles Turner led Indiana with 18 points.
The Pacers struggled throughout the contest and trailed by as many as 26 points while falling to 1-3 on a seven-game road trip.
“We’re not playing with the right intentions and we’re not moving the ball,” Indiana head coach Rick Carlisle said. “The things that have gotten us to the point where we’ve been a surprise team, and second in the league in passes, those things failed us (Friday night). I’ve got to do a better job of convincing our guys that we’ve got to be in that mode.”
Backup rookie point guard Andrew Nembhard recorded his first double-double with 13 points and a career-high 10 assists on Friday.
The Pacers have beaten Portland in three of the past five matchups after losing 10 of the previous 11 encounters.