Trail Blazers-Spurs Preview

The San Antonio Spurs face a near-must-win situation when they host the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night.

And nothing would make the Trail Blazers happier than to snatch that victory away from the Spurs and rain a little on the parade San Antonio has enjoyed for the past two decades.

The Spurs (45-34) are in desperation mode although they begin play in the sixth playoff spot in the Western Conference with three games to play. San Antonio is tied with New Orleans and Oklahoma City for fifth place in the Western Conference standings, a game behind fourth-place Utah. But only one game separates fifth place from ninth place, with the top eight teams earning spots in the postseason.

San Antonio heads home for its next-to-last home game after two straight, last-second losses in Los Angeles, first to the Clippers Tuesday and then to the Lakers, with the latter a 122-112 setback in overtime the following night.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 28 points for the Spurs in the loss to the Lakers, while Dejounte Murray hit for 23 points and took 10 rebounds, and Pau Gasol had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Rudy Gay added 14 points off the bench for San Antonio.

The loss was San Antonio’s seventh straight on the road and kept the Spurs’ magic number to clinch their 21st consecutive playoff berth at two. Two of San Antonio’s last three games are against teams with winning records, including their season finale at New Orleans on Wednesday.

“Man, we’ve got to know that every game is a playoff, a Game 7 for us,” Murray said. “We’ve got to play for 48 minutes, and if the game decides to go to overtime like it did tonight, we’ve got to be ready to play even more.

“We are staying together,” Murray added. “One thing I can say, we are staying together. There is a lot going on. When you lose games, it is easy to lose focus.”

For the first time in 18 years, the Spurs will not win 50 games in a season. And Gasol said that San Antonio’s margin for error is shrinking.

“We have been talking about that,” Gasol said. “It just gets slimmer and slimmer. It was the worst outcome, losing two games that we had our chances and even times, especially (against the Clippers), were in control of with big leads. But two losses, and that is reality.”

Portland (48-31) heads to the Alamo City in third place in the Western Conference standings, a game up on Utah but already assured of a spot in the playoffs. The Trail Blazers lost their most recent game at Houston 96-94 on Thursday despite allowing just 12 points in the fourth quarter and 30 points in the second half.

CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers with 16 points, and Jusuf Nurkic had his 25th double-double of the season, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds in the loss. Wade Baldwin IV scored 14 points while Caleb Swanigan had a career-high 10 points and Evan Turner had 10 points for Portland.

“I know we put in all the guys who don’t play a lot, everybody’s hungry,” Baldwin said. “Everybody wants to play in this league, everybody wants to show what they can do. I think everybody did a fantastic job of showing that tonight.”

Portland dropped its second consecutive game and fell to 4-5 since a 13-game winning streak launched them up the Western Conference standings

“Those guys at the end just worked their (butts) off,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “Played hard, were aggressive defensively. It was really impressive. Too bad we couldn’t go to overtime or win it, but I was really proud of the way they played.”

Portland’s star guard Damian Lillard has been hampered by an ankle injury but said Friday that he expects to play on Saturday in San Antonio.