Trail Blazers aim to inch closer to division title
The Portland Trail Blazers have already clinched their fifth straight postseason spot but there remains plenty to play for with five games left in the regular season.
Chief among those goals are wrapping up the Western Conference’s third seed and Northwest Division title.
Portland (48-29) can move another step closer to both Tuesday night by beating the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center.
“We honestly want to focus on closing it out,” Portland forward Evan Turner said, according to the Oregonian. “We’ve got an opportunity to get to 50 wins, got an opportunity to clinch third and win a division. That’s pretty big considering experts said we’d be 11th in the West. So, it’s pretty dope.”
The immediate challenger for the third seed is San Antonio, which is 45-32 and three games back of the Blazers. Portland’s magic number for clinching No. 3 in the West over the Spurs is three. Two wins would lock up the Northwest.
The odds of the Blazers doing both appear pretty good, especially considering they went 12-3 in March. In a tight West race, Portland has been able to achieve a level of separation with the teams still on the playoff bubble.
The Blazers have remained hot despite cooling off beyond the arc. Portland has been one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooting teams all season but is only knocking down a league-worst 27.9 percent over the last six games.
“We’re getting great looks,” Portland guard Damian Lillard said, according to the Oregonian. “I don’t think you change anything when you’re getting high-quality looks like we’ve been getting. If anything, I think we should be encouraged, because we’re still having success, we’re still winning games and having good offensive ball movement and screening and just a good rhythm to the game. The 3 just isn’t going in.
“The fact that we’re winning without making as many 3s as we would like to is a good sign. And also knowing that when this happens, it comes back around. Hopefully when we get in the playoffs, it’ll hit again, and it’ll be right on time.”
Lillard hasn’t missed a step.
On Monday, he was named NBA Western Conference Player of the Week for games played from March 26 to April 1 after averaging a league-high 28.3 points to go along with 6.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists.
The Blazers would love to get their four-game trip off on the right foot against Dallas, especially with games coming up against San Antonio and Houston. Should Portland lock up the third seed, it would avoid a potential matchup with the Rockets in the second round.
The Mavericks (23-54) have dropped three in a row and eight of nine in a race for more ping-pong balls in the lottery. The Mavericks are coming off a 97-88 loss at Cleveland on Sunday when it scored fewer than 95 points for the third straight game
Dallas forward Harrison Barnes, however, is playing some of the best ball of his career and scored 30 points Sunday.
He is averaging 22.3 points on 45.0 percent shooting from the floor, including 43.8 percent beyond the arc, over his last 15 games. Barnes is also getting more minutes lately at small forward instead of power forward.
“A lot of these teams now are playing pace and space, getting out running, getting 3s and layups. That’s where the league is going,” Barnes said. “So the ability to be able to shoot the 3 off the dribble is huge, and if I can get that into my game, it’ll just give us another option and way to score that’s less grinding and less pounding over the course of the game.”