The Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff race entering their final meeting of the season.
Since the teams split the first two matchups, Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum didn’t need much prodding to describe the importance of Thursday night’s game in Portland.
“Huge game for us,” McCollum told reporters. “It’s gonna be crucial down the stretch of the season, could decide our fate.”
Portland (23-28) enters the matchup in ninth place in the West, a half-game ahead of the Spurs (22-28). The Memphis Grizzlies hold the eighth and final postseason spot with a 25-25 record entering their Wednesday night game against the Dallas Mavericks.
San Antonio is in a delicate spot as its plays the third contest of the annual Rodeo Road Trip, a period where its home venue is unavailable for eight games due to the presence of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.
The Spurs dropped the first two games of the stretch in Los Angeles to fall to 8-16 on the road. San Antonio lost 108-105 to the Clippers on Monday and were routed 129-102 by the Lakers on Tuesday.
“As a competitor, it’s what you want to play against,” Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan told reporters of having back-to-back games against strong Los Angeles teams. “I don’t look at it like it’s being tough. It’s part of the job, part of the game, and as a competitor you want to compete against the best. You worry about the toll afterwards.”
While the loss to the Clippers was painful, DeRozan could point to an opposing culprit in the loss to the Lakers — a guy named LeBron James, who made five of his season-high-tying six 3-pointers in the final quarter.
“LeBron came out and made five threes in a row,” DeRozan said. “It’s kind of tough to counter.”
DeRozan scored 28 points in the loss to top 20 points for the fifth straight game. He is averaging 30.4 points during the stretch.
Even hotter than DeRozan is Portland star point guard Damian Lillard.
Lillard scored just 21 points on 8-for-23 shooting in Tuesday’s 127-99 road loss to the Denver Nuggets. It was his 16th straight 20-point effort since tallying just 11 points against the New York Knicks on Jan. 1.
But the performance seemed like a letdown after Lillard averaged 48.8 points over the previous six games, including outputs of 61 (a franchise high), 51, 50, 48 and 47. He also had topped 30 points in a franchise-record eight straight games.
“I didn’t have as many clean looks, but I still feel like I had some looks that I could have made,” Lillard said. “I thought they got away with a lot, too, just being physical.”
Lillard was just 1 of 6 from 3-point range after connecting on 49 of 86 (57 percent) over the previous six games. He set an NBA record by making at least six in six straight contests.
Lillard certainly wasn’t the only player struggling as the Trail Blazers scored just 10 second-quarter points and trailed 64-38 at halftime. The 28-point losing margin is a season worst.
“Just looking back at (the second quarter), I remember a fair amount of really good looks that we got, we just didn’t make shots,” Lillard said. “I think it was also a little bit of (the Nuggets), the energy and aggressiveness that they had. Score 10 points in the quarter — we never had a great shot.”
Both of the first two meetings between the Spurs and Trail Blazers were played in San Antonio.
Trail Blazers forward Nassir Little’s availability isn’t yet know after he was helped off the court in the final minute against Denver due to a sprained left ankle. Postgame X-rays came back negative.
–Field Level Media