Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites


Blazers hone in on West playoff spot, and it looks like No. 6, 7 or 8

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Blazers guard Damian Lillard whoops it up Tuesday night as Portland overcomes Washington in OT.The Trail Blazers took another important step toward the playoffs with their 116-109 overtime victory over Washington Tuesday night at Moda Center.

With 17 regular-season games remaining, Portland (34-31) stands alone in sixth place in the Western Conference, five games behind No. 5 Memphis (38-25) and a half-game ahead of No. 7 Dallas (33-31). No. 8 Houston (31-32) is two games back of the Blazers while No. 9 Utah (29-34) trails the Rip City crew by four games.

A look at the remaining schedules of the five teams vying for the final four spots in the West playoff race:

5. MEMPHIS 38-25. Home games (8): New Orleans, Minnesota, Clippers, San Antonio, Denver, Toronto, Chicago, Golden State. Road games (11): Boston, Atlanta, Houston, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Lakers, San Antonio, Orlando, Dallas, Clippers, Golden State. Vs. teams with winning record: 11. Back-to-backs: 5.

6. PORTLAND 34-31 (Washington): Home games (9): Orlando, Dallas, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Boston, Miami, Oklahoma City, Minnesota, Denver. Road games (8). Golden State, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, New Orleans, Dallas, Clippers, Golden State, Sacramento. Vs. teams with winning record: 10. Back-to-backs: 5.

7. DALLAS 33-31: Home games (8): Detroit, Indiana, Golden State, Portland, New York, Houston, Memphis, San Antonio. Road games (10): Charlotte, Cleveland, Portland, Golden State, Sacramento, Denver, Detroit, Minnesota, Clippers, Utah. Vs. teams with winning record: 12. Back-to-backs: 2.

8. HOUSTON 31-32: Home games (10): Memphis, Clippers, Minnesota, Utah, Toronto, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Lakers, Sacramento. Road games (9): Philadelphia, Boston, Charlotte, Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Indiana, Cleveland, Dallas, Minnesota. Vs. teams with winning record: 12. Back-to-backs: 5.

9. UTAH 29-34: Home games (9): Washington, Cleveland, Phoenix, Lakers, Golden State, Minnesota, San Antonio, Clippers, Dallas. Road games (10): Golden State, Sacramento, Chicago, Milwaukee, Houston, Oklahoma City, Minnesota, Phoenix, Denver, Lakers. Vs. teams with winning record: 9. Back-to-backs: 5.

Memphis has plenty of tough games left, and 11 of them are on the road. The Grizzlies are also without All-Star center Marc Gasol for the rest of the season and, at the trade deadline, sent away Jeff Green and Courtney Lee for very little in return. Even so, they’ve held their ground, going 7-3 since the All-Star break.

If the Grizzlies should go, say, 9-10 over the final 19 games, they would finish 47-35. That would require the Blazers — who have won 15 of their last 20 games — to close out the regular season 13-4 just to pull even with Memphis. With road games against Golden State (twice), San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers, that seems unlikely.

Fifth place will be difficult to attain for Portland. In the same vein, with the Jazz on a 3-8 slide over their last 11 games, it’s growing closer to a sure bet that the Blazers will at least make the playoffs — probably as the sixth, seventh or eighth seed.

The Blazers admit they are keeping track of their competitors in the West.

“We look at the standings every day to see what those teams are doing,” says reserve forward Ed Davis, who had nine points, 15 rebounds and four assists in 32 minutes against the Wizards. “But we don’t really have to pay attention to them. We just have to focus on us, and we’ll be fine. Every game from here on out is going to be huge.”

If the Blazers can gain the No. 6 seed, they’ll probably face either Oklahoma City or the Clippers. That would mean not having to play either Golden State or San Antonio in the first round. A major goal, right?

“I don’t think so,” forward Meyers Leonard says. “Working our way to a higher seed is what we want to do. We want to win games. We want to play the way we know we’re capable of and continue to improve toward the playoffs. But as far as matchups go, we can play with anyone, if and when we get to the playoffs.”

Leonard’s teammates are singing much the same tune.

“We’re not running from nobody,” says CJ McCollum, whose short-range jump shot with 5.4 seconds left in regulation sent Tuesday’s game into overtime. “We just want to make the playoffs. We’ll play whoever we line up against. It’s the NBA. There are really elite teams, especially in the West. You have to be thankful just to get into the playoffs.”

The Blazers, who next play Friday at Golden State, want to avoid slippage down the stretch.

“We want to keep our spot,” says Damian Lillard, who scored nine of his 41 points in overtime against the Wizards. “As long as other teams lose, that’s a good thing for us. It’s even bigger thing when they lose and we can win games.

“We have a tough stretch of schedule left. We have to just worry about ourselves and handle our business. We have a good thing going and need to stay locked in, one game at a time.”

But wouldn’t it be nice to avoid opening the playoffs against the Warriors or Spurs?

“We’re not avoiding anybody,” Lillard said. “We’re playing for our playoff lives. When we get our spot, we’ll go see whoever. It doesn’t matter.”

NOTES: Lillard was the showcase player as the Blazers snapped a three-game losing streak by rallying from a 13-point third-quarter deficit against Washington (30-33). He was 12 for 25 from the field, 6 for 13 from 3-point range and 11 for 12 from the free-throw line. He dished 11 assists and had only one turnover in 44 minutes. But the Blazers got critical contributions from a number of other players, including McCollum, who scored 18 points on a night when his minutes were shortened due to foul trouble. Reserve guard Gerald Henderson, who had 12 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes, soared to swat away Marcin Gortat’s shot at the basket as regulation time expired. Davis was especially big in the overtime, with four boards and a pair of assists. And Leonard came off the bench for10 points on 4-for-6 shooting to go with six rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes. “We have a lot of unsung guys on this team,” McCollum said. “We need guys to do what they do well. That’s what happened tonight.”

Lillard has scored 20 or more points in 15 straight games, has tallied 30 or more in 10 of those games and has bettered the 40-point mark four times this season. He is 77 for 80 from the free-throw line over the past nine contests. … Washington’s Alan Anderson was ejected after a first-quarter altercation with Henderson. Henderson was given a personal foul and both players technical fouls on the play. … Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall collected 20 points and 11 assists but was only 8 for 25 from the field and 1 for 4 from the foul line. … Portland won the game at the line, making 24 of 31 attempts while the Wizards were 11 for 23. … Defense continues to be a concern for the Blazers, who have yielded an average of 116.3 points over their last four games. … The Wizards were missing two key members of their backcourt in Bradley Beal (pelvis) and Gary Neal (leg).

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Twitter: @kerryeggers