ATLANTA — Portland is one of eight Atlanta opponents in the next nine games that has a losing record, but the Hawks certainly won’t be taking the Trail Blazers lightly Saturday night.
As much as Atlanta would like to have home court in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Portland has more at stake.
The Trail Blazers, coming off a big 110-106 victory at San Antonio on Wednesday, are trying to catch Denver for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and trail the Nuggets by 2 1/2 games with 15 to play.
Portland (30-37) is 6-2 in March and 2-1 on their five-game road trip that ends Sunday in Miami.
The Trail Blazers’ high-scoring backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 62 points against the Spurs, but almost as important were the 16 points and nine rebounds from center Jusuf Nurkic.
Portland is 7-4 with Nurkic, acquired from Denver in exchange for Mason Plumlee, in the starting lineup.
“That had to be probably our best win of the year to beat a team like San Antonio on the road,” Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said after his team bounced back against the Spurs following a lopsided loss at New Orleans the previous night. “Not only that, but how we won. I thought it was one of our better games as far as staying focused throughout the game.”
After shooting 30 percent from the field against the Pelicans, Portland shot 48 percent against the Spurs.
“We talked about it, because it’s something you can’t just say, ‘Aw, we got beat,'” said Lillard, who scored 36 points against the Spurs. “You’ve got to address the things that we didn’t do well and the things we’ve got to do better if we want to have this run we’re trying to put together. But that was it. We didn’t have a big intervention, nothing like that.”
The Hawks (37-31) have won five straight against the Trail Blazers, but the victory this season at Portland came in overtime.
Atlanta, which had tied it on Paul Millsap’s buzzer-beating basket, won 109-104 on Feb. 13 by scoring the final 12 points of the extra period.
Millsap scored 21 points, while Tim Hardaway Jr. had 25 and Dennis Schroder scored 22 for the Hawks.
McCollum had 25 points for the Trail Blazers and Lillard scored 21 in the earlier meeting.
The loss by Portland came the day after the trade of Plumlee for Nurkic in a swap of centers and the Trail Blazers have been on an upward surge since.
The Hawks, meanwhile, continue to take a step back for every step forward in the attempt to catch Toronto for the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta lost 103-91 at home to Memphis on Wednesday after beating the Grizzlies by 17 points on the road five days earlier.
“We should have come out more aggressive knowing that they were going to come out more aggressive,” said Millsap, who was held to 10 points. “We just didn’t do that.”
The Hawks scored 13 points in the third quarter while shooting 17.6 percent overall and missing all seven on their 3-point attempts.
Schroder was 4 of 16 overall from the floor and 1 of 6 from behind the arc while scoring 10 points.
“Not a pretty game for us. It just didn’t feel like we could get anything done, particularly the end of the second quarter and going into the third quarter,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Just kind of in mud.”