Blazers clinch sixth spot in West playoffs
Dallas, OKC, Lakers still potential first-round opponent
The Trail Blazers clinched the sixth seed in the Western Conference Tuesday night.
The remaining question: Who will be the West's third seed and the Blazers' first-round playoff opponent?
Dallas, Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Lakers remained candidates after Tuesday's penultimate round of regular-season NBA games, including Portland's 102-89 takedown of Memphis at the Rose Garden.
The Mavericks and Lakers (56-25) go into the final day of regular-season play tied for second place, with the Thunder (55-26) a game back in fourth.
The potential scenarios include:
• The Lakers finish third if they lose Wednesday at Sacramento and Dallas beats New Orleans.
• Oklahoma City finishes third if the Lakers beat the Kings and Dallas loses to the Hornets. The Lakers would be second and the Thunder and Mavericks tied for third; OKC would get the higher seed by virtue of the Northwest Division championship. (Dallas would finish second in the Southwest Division behind San Antonio.)
• Dallas finishes third if the Mavericks and Lakers both win Wednesday. The Lakers would get the second seed by virtue of winning the season series with Dallas 2-1.
The Blazers (48-33) weren't worried about a playoff opponent after their perfunctory victory over a Memphis team playing without regulars Zach Randolph and Tony Allen. After another season dealing with numerous injuries to key players, the Blazers were glad to have the sixth seed.
'After all we've been through this year, all the adversity, to still be the sixth seed is good,' said LaMarcus Aldridge, who led Portland with 22 points and 11 rebounds despite playing only 29 minutes.
'It's big, especially for the mental part of it, knowing what we've been through this season,' said Portland point guard Andre Miller, who had nine points and eight assists with no turnovers in 33 minutes. 'Six sounds better than eight. That's how you look at it from the politics side.'
Memphis (46-35) could have taken a step toward securing the sixth seed with a win Tuesday night, but Coach Lionel Hollins chose to rest Randolph and Allen.
'Tony's hurt,' Hollins said. 'His knee and ankle both swelled up on him after the (New Orleans game Sunday night).
'And I didn't want to play Zach these last two (regular-season) games because I wanted to get him rested and fresh. He hurt his elbow, and he has the bad knee. I didn't want to have him out here banging for two more games when we have the playoffs coming.'
The Blazers, who trailed much of the first half and went into intermission in a 45-45 tie, got a little separation in the third quarter but were never really able to put away the Grizzlies until the closing moments.
'We didn't play sharp basketball,' Portland coach Nate McMillan said. 'We lost focus when they didn't play their guys. We played down to the level of the competition, but we got it done.'
The sixth seed, McMillan said, 'is a great accomplishment for this team and all (the players) had to go through - different guys having to fill in and make adjustments. Guys stepped in and played good basketball and gave us an opportunity to play in the postseason. Now we're there. The next goal is to get out of the first round.'
Six Blazers scored in double figures, including Rudy Fernandez, who came off the bench for 18 points in 28 minutes. Fernandez was 5 for 6 from the field, 4 for 5 from 3-point range and 4 for 5 from the foul line. In his previous three outings, he had gone 1 for 15 from the field, including 0 for 11 on 3-point attempts.
'That was great to see,' McMillan said. 'He was too unselfish again, but he has to shoot some ball. It was good to see him knock down some shots and get his confidence. Hopefully that will carry over to the next game and the playoffs.'
'I had to play with confidence and take my shots,' Fernandez said. 'The coach says, 'Keep shooting.' That's what I do.
'I feel the support of my teammates every game. They know sometimes I get my head down, thinking about the misses.'
One of the teammates, center Marcus Camby, offered a hug after Fernandez's first trey.
'He'd been struggling to knock down shots,' Camby said. 'I knew eventually it was going to fall for him. Seemed like tonight he finally got his game back. He's going to be key for us in the playoffs, helping us spread the floor.'
NOTES - The Blazers finish the regular season at Golden State Wednesday night. McMillan said he will 'look to sit some guys' out of that game. 'LaMarcus will be one,' he said. ... Portland has won eight of its last 11 games. Memphis came into the game having won six of its last seven. ... It was Aldridge's 24th game in which he has amassed at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. ... Aldridge entered the game having averaged 39.7 minutes and having played more minutes than anyone in the league other than Golden State's Monta Ellis. ... Ellis will sit out Wednesday's game due to a concussion. ... Camby returned to the Blazer starting lineup after missing the previous two games with a strained neck. He contributed four points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots in 30 minutes. 'I felt good once I got going,' the veteran center said. 'I'm still a little sore, but for the most part, I felt OK." ... Portland's Gerald Wallace had all of his 14 points and four rebounds in the second half. He had no points and no boards in 17 first-half minutes. ... The teams were almost identical in field-goal percentage (Portland .450, Memphis .456) and 3-point percentage (.500 both). The Blazers won the game at the foul line, making 21 of 23 (.913) to 11 of 18 (.611) for the Grizzlies. ... Camby, on his outlook entering the postseason: 'I feel more excited than last year going into the playoffs. The acquisition of Gerald brings us versatility and depth. We can rely on the bench a whole lot more and won't have to have guys playing heavy minutes.'