With LaMarcus Aldridge back in the mix, the Portland Trail Blazers are making a late push for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Phoenix Suns continue to scrap for one of the Western Conference’s final spots, but they must navigate a challenging final set of games.
Portland looks for a fifth straight win Friday night when it hosts Phoenix.
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The Trail Blazers’ chances at a top-four seed appeared to be slim during a 4-9 stretch March 3-25. However, they’ve won four straight since LaMarcus Aldridge returned from a seven-game absence due to a back injury and are a game behind Houston for fourth place.
Portland (49-27) has averaged 105.0 points over its last four with Aldridge back in the lineup after scoring 90.0 per game in three consecutive defeats. The Trail Blazers, who haven’t had home court in a postseason series since 2009, are also averaging a plus-3.0 rebounding margin since Aldridge has returned after a minus-3.4 margin when he was out.
Aldridge had 31 points, 15 rebounds and six assists in Tuesday’s 124-112 road win over the Los Angeles Lakers – two nights after he scored 28 in a win over Memphis.
"We had a rough stretch, but now we’ve kind of picked it back up and we’re going in the right direction at the perfect time," said Damian Lillard, who scored 34 points against the Lakers and was 5 of 10 from 3-point range. "Now that we’re close to the postseason, we want to have that rhythm going into the playoffs – because that’s what we play the regular season for."
Portland, which has won eight of nine at home against Phoenix, will play five of its final six games on its own floor, where it owns its second-best winning percentage over the last 14 seasons.
The Suns (44-31), who are battling with Memphis and Dallas for the conference’s final two playoff berths, play five of their final seven against teams in position for or competing for a playoff appearance, including meetings with the Grizzlies and Mavericks.
Phoenix reeled off a six-game win streak – its longest in four years – but has since dropped back-to-back contests to the Lakers and Clippers. The Suns led the Clippers by 17 with 1:49 remaining in the third quarter Wednesday but lost 112-108, squandering an opportunity to claim sole possession of seventh place.
"We had this game almost in our pockets," said Goran Dragic, who is 8 for 27 from the floor in the last two games after shooting 50.0 percent or better in 11 of his previous 12.
"But now is not the time to think like that, because we still have to have our confidence up to play those last seven games."
The Suns, whose 9.5 made 3-pointers per game are tied with the Trail Blazers for the league lead, are 16 of 64 from 3-point range in their last two games after going 71 for 162 (43.8 percent) during the win streak.
Phoenix won two of the first three meetings this season, both at home. Dragic averaged 28.5 points and shot 56.4 percent in those victories.