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Playoff positions hinge on final week of season

Getting sixth spot in the West remains key goal for Trail Blazers
by: Christopher Onstott Nicolas Batum and the Trail Blazers go into the closing week of the NBA regular season with a shot at finishing sixth, seventh or eighth in the Western Conference.

The Trail Blazers blew a golden opportunity to improve their chances to gain the sixth seed in the Western Conference playoffs with Tuesday's listless home loss to Golden State.

With Memphis' home loss to the L.A. Clippers, Portland had an opportunity to build a two-game lead on the Grizzlies with four regular-season games to play.

Instead, the Blazers (45-33) held a half-game lead over New Orleans (44-33) going into the Hornets' Wednesday night game against Houston. Memphis (44-34) was a full game behind Portland in eighth place.

Next Tuesday's Portland-Memphis game at the Rose Garden still looms large. It will decide the season series and provide a tie-breaker should the teams finish with the same regular-season record. The teams haven't met since Dec. 13, when Memphis clobbered visiting Portland 86-73. The Blazers edged the Grizzlies 100-99 at the Rose Garden on Nov. 16.

• Portland's remaining schedule - at Utah, home against the L.A. Lakers, Memphis and at Golden State - wouldn't seem so daunting had the Blazers taken care of business at home against the Warriors. The Warriors, incidentally, own the Blazers at Oakland, having won 10 of the last 11 meetings there despite the ineptitude of the home team over that span.

New Orleans - playing without injured forward David West, its second-best player, the rest of the way - will be home against Phoenix, at Memphis, home versus Utah and at Dallas to finish its season. The Hornets, who have the tie-breaker over Portland, will be hard-pressed to split those four games.

Memphis still must play Sacramento and visit the Clippers in addition to the games against Portland and New Orleans. If the Grizzlies beat the Blazers and Hornets, they'll likely still be in the running for the sixth spot.

• Why is finishing No. 6 important?

Because the Lakers are likely to finish second in the West behind San Antonio, making the seventh seed their first-round playoff opponent. Dallas and Oklahoma City are still battling for fourth, but the Mavericks went into Wednesday play with a two-game lead and the tie-breaker should the teams finish even.

The Blazers went 3-1 against San Antonio and 2-2 against Dallas this season. They are 0-3 against the Lakers going into Friday's showdown at the Rose Garden, having lost 121-96 on Nov. 7, 106-101 in overtime on Feb. 23 and 84-80 on March 20.

• Portland will fail to win 50 games this season for the first time in three years. They have reached that mark 11 times in their 41-year history. Only once have they had a streak longer than two seasons - from 1989-93 under Rick Adelman, when they won 59, 63, 57 and 51.

• A year ago, when the Blazers finished 50-32, they were a much better road team, going 24-17, but they were only a so-so home team, with a 26-15 mark.

This season, they are 28-11 at home but 17-22 on the road. It will be interesting to see how that translates into performance in the playoffs.

• LaMarcus Aldridge will finish the regular season as the team leader in scoring (currently 21) and rebounds (8.7).

Aldridge will become the sixth Blazer to lead both categories, joining Sidney Wicks, 1971-72 (24.5, 11.5), 1974-75 (21.9, 10.7) and 1975-76 (19.1, 9); Tom Owens 1978-79 (18.5, 9); Mychal Thompson, 1981-82 (20.8, 11.7); Rasheed Wallace, 1999-2000 (16.4, 7) and Zach Randolph, 2003-04 (20.1, 10.5), 2004-05 (18.9, 9.6), 2005-06 (18, 8) and 2006-07 (23.6, 10.1).

• Aldridge also will lead Portland in minutes played - he ranks third in the league with a 39.7 average and became the first Blazer to log 3,000 minutes since Damon Stoudamire (2003-04).

And Aldridge is in a battle with Gerald Wallace for the team's field-goal percentage crown (.500). If Aldridge outshoots Wallace, he will join Owens (1978-79), Wallace (1999-2000) and Randolph (2005-06 and 2006-07) as the only Blazers to lead all four categories in a single season.

• Tonight, Andre Miller should become the 14th NBA player to dish out 7,000 career assists. The veteran point guard has 6,998 in his 12 seasons. Miller will soon pass Terry Porter (12th, 7,160) and Tim Hardaway (13th, 7,095).

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Blazers lead the NBA in converted lob passes (149), with Aldridge on the receiving end of a league-high 98. Miller ranks first with 68 successful feeds.

• Also from Elias: The Blazers rank next-to-last in the NBA in fastbreak points at 9.9 per game. Milwaukee ranks last at 9.8.

• In his 39 games before Jan. 20 knee surgery, Marcus Camby was averaging 5.9 points and 11.3 rebounds. In the 19 games the Blazer center has played since then, he is averaging 2.2 points and 8.7 rebounds.