Celtics-Trail Blazers Preview
The Portland Trail Blazers are struggling defensively during their worst stretch of the season, and LaMarcus Aldridge’s absence isn’t helping matters.
Luckily for them, the Boston Celtics’ offense doesn’t appear too threatening ahead of Thursday night’s meeting in Portland.
The Trail Blazers (31-12) have dropped four of five while giving up 100-plus in each defeat after letting opponents reach the century mark four times in the previous 20 games. They’ve also let their last five opponents shoot 37.7 percent from 3-point range after previously limiting teams to 28.7 percent.
Aldridge, the team’s leader with 23.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, didn’t play in Wednesday’s 118-113 loss at Phoenix due to a left thumb injury suffered in Monday’s 98-94 win over Sacramento. X-rays were negative, though coach Terry Stotts did not say when he expects Aldridge to return.
"I’m not commenting on anything other than he has an MRI (Thursday)," Stotts said.
Portland’s frontcourt is already short-handed with Robin Lopez sidelined the last 18 games with a broken hand and Joel Freeland missing nine straight due to a strained shoulder.
The Trail Blazers let Phoenix shoot 51.1 percent while falling to 3-2 without Aldridge, and the 24 fast-break points allowed were their second-most.
Portland squandered a five-point lead with 2:22 remaining. It had trailed by as many as 25 in the second quarter after giving up a season-worst 40 first-quarter points.
"I don’t think we should be satisfied with a moral victory," said Damian Lillard, who scored 22 but was 6 of 22 from the floor and committed five turnovers. "We didn’t deserve to win the game because of how it went. You want to win, you expect to win but not enough things went right."
As disappointing as Portland’s defense has been lately, its last four losses have come against teams currently in playoff position. The Trail Blazers, who are 19-4 at home, figure to bounce back against Boston (13-26). Their 20-2 record against sub-.500 teams trails only Golden State (19-1), and they’re an NBA-best 7-2 on the second night of back-to-backs.
Portland won its fourth straight in the series in a 94-88 victory at Boston on Nov. 23, holding the Celtics to 38.9 percent shooting. The Trail Blazers haven’t won five straight meetings since Feb. 20, 1994-Jan. 3, 1996.
Boston has averaged 98.6 points in going 4-12 since trading Rajon Rondo after previously averaging 104.5 points. The Celtics have shot 42.1 percent over their last eight.
They trailed by as many as 23 in Monday’s 102-93 loss to the Clippers to open a six-game Western Conference trip. Boston, which has dropped seven of its last eight away from home, plays the next four games over five days.
"We’re going to change time zones a couple of times," coach Brad Stevens told the team’s official website. "We’re going to play against good teams. We’re going to play against high-energy teams. We’re going to have to make sure that we can do everything that we can to have the right amount of legs for that whole trip."
Boston is 0-4 on the road against Western Conference teams, giving up 110.3 points per game and 44.8 percent shooting (43 for 96) from 3-point range in those defeats. Portland’s Wesley Matthews is 11 of 20 from 3-point range over his last four matchups with the Celtics.
Marcus Smart continues to show off an improved 3-point shot in spite of Boston’s struggling offense. The rookie is 16 for 36 from deep (44.4 percent) over his last eight games after previously shooting 31.7 percent.