With a playoff berth locked up, the Portland Trail Blazers can now get greedy and turn their attention to an outside shot at home-court advantage in the first round.
With four games remaining and a 2 1/2-game gap between themselves and the No. 4 seed, the Blazers will certainly need to take advantage of Wednesday night’s home date with the struggling and banged-up Sacramento Kings.
While starting the playoffs at home would be a nice perk, Portland isn’t concerned with who its opponent is.
Article continues below ...
"We’re in the West, so I don’t really care," forward Nicolas Batum told the team’s official website. "Whoever we play is going to be tough anyways, from San Antonio to Phoenix, Memphis, Dallas, Houston, Clippers. That’s (the media’s) job to choose and to debate, that’s not mine. So we’ll see."
Sunday’s 100-94 victory over New Orleans assured the Trail Blazers (50-28) their first postseason spot since 2010-11 and first 50-win season since going 50-32 in 2009-10.
"Fifty wins is always a big honor in this league," said LaMarcus Aldridge, who led the Blazers with 25 points and 18 rebounds. "Especially being in the West with so many good teams. It’s definitely not something to take for granted. Guys are happy about it and we’re definitely happy to be locked into the playoffs."
After losing eight of 11 last month, the Blazers have won five of six since Aldridge returned from a seven-game absence due to a back injury – and put themselves back in the race for the No. 4 seed. They’ll need the Rockets to falter, however, as Houston has three fewer losses than Portland and also owns the tiebreaker.
The Blazers outrebounded the Pelicans 50-38 and limited New Orleans to 42.2 percent shooting. That’s the same percentage they’ve held opponents to in the last six games, but the Blazers aren’t taking too much pride in any of their accomplishments at this point.
"We haven’t done anything yet," Batum told the team’s official website. "We’ve had a good season so far, but we have four more games, and then the real season starts."
The Blazers will now try to avoid splitting the four-game season series with the Kings after falling 123-119 in Sacramento on Jan. 7 despite 41 points from Damian Lillard.
DeMarcus Cousins scored 35 to lead the Kings while Rudy Gay added 32. Cousins is averaging 34.3 points in three games against Portland this season while Gay is averaging 31.0 in two.
Sacramento (27-51) has lost eight of 10 on the road and three straight overall after Tuesday’s 107-92 home loss to Oklahoma City.
Cousins led the way with 24 points and 14 rebounds, his 50th double-double to tie Chris Webber’s Sacramento-era single-season record for the franchise. Travis Outlaw also scored 24.
They were without Gay (back), power forward Reggie Evans (back) and point guard Isaiah Thomas, who missed his eighth straight game with a bruised right quadriceps. Coach Michael Malone said the effort still could have been better from those who did suit up.
"We had some guys that played with no energy," said Malone, whose team has shot 40.3 percent in its last three games. "It looked they didn’t even want to be out there, to be honest."