Trail Blazers-Hawks Preview
Help could be on the way for the slumping Portland Trail Blazers, who haven’t been able to stop the bleeding.
The Atlanta Hawks also appear to be falling apart down the stretch.
The Trail Blazers hope to get LaMarcus Aldridge back as they go for their first season sweep of the Hawks in six years Thursday night.
It’s been a rough three weeks for Portland (45-27), which has dropped eight of 11 to put its playoff hopes at risk. The Blazers are just ahead of Golden State, Memphis, Phoenix and Dallas, who are battling for the Western Conference’s final three postseason berths.
Portland’s woes continued in Tuesday’s 95-85 loss at last-place Orlando, dropping to 0-3 on a five-game road trip. Robin Lopez had a season-best 20 points and 13 rebounds against the Magic, who snapped a nine-game losing streak.
"This is a very, extremely disappointing loss and in fact it was a game we needed to have," coach Terry Stotts said. "We’ve got 10 games left. There’s got to be a sense of urgency every game. Playoff race is tight. We’d like to look forward, but we’ve got four teams that are right on our heels, and every game has a new sense of urgency."
Damian Lillard is averaging 18.7 points while shooting 29.4 percent during the trek, down from his season marks of 21.1 and 42.3. The Blazers have lost 13 of 17 on the road.
"I think we are just in a new territory for some guys," Lopez told the team’s official website. "It is late in the season, and the playoffs haven’t started but essentially the playoffs have started. We need to realize that."
With his team struggling, Aldridge is eager to get back on the court. The All-Star forward, averaging team highs of 23.4 points and 11.1 rebounds, has missed the last seven games with back trouble.
"Makes me want to play even worse? Yes it does. But it’s not about me, it’s about the medical staff and them saying I can play," said Aldridge, who is a game-time decision. "I’ve been wanting to play but obviously if you can’t move then you can’t play."
Portland held the Hawks to a season-low 33.0 percent shooting in this season’s first matchup, easily winning 102-78 on March 5 behind 14 points and a career high-tying 18 rebounds from Nicolas Batum. Aldridge finished with 10 points while shooting a season-worst 1 of 13.
The Blazers haven’t swept Atlanta since taking both meetings in 2007-08.
The Hawks (31-39) had dropped 14 of 15 before putting together a season-best five-game winning streak, but their struggles have resumed over the last week. Atlanta is coming off its fourth straight defeat, 107-83 at Minnesota on Wednesday.
Mike Scott had a team-high 15 points as the Hawks were outscored 42-28 in the paint and 26-13 in transition. Atlanta is clinging to the East’s final playoff spot.
"We’re a close team," Scott said. "We’ve been through a slump before. It’s not good at all. But we know how to do good things, we’re professionals and we’re going to stick together."
Hawks forward Kyle Korver hasn’t played during the skid due to back spasms, leaving his status for Thursday in doubt. Korver scored five points while shooting 1 of 9 – including 0 for 5 from long distance – against the Blazers earlier this month as his NBA record of 127 consecutive games with a made 3-pointer was snapped.