Trail Blazers seek to avoid play-in; Spurs hoping for it

NBA

The surging Portland Trail Blazers will look to move closer to a guaranteed spot in the NBA playoffs when they host the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday in a game with huge postseason implications for both teams.

The game will be the second of a back-to-back for both the Trail Blazers and the Spurs, who both won their respective contests on Friday.

The Trail Blazers have a full head of steam after outlasting the shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers 106-101 on Friday to capture their second straight game and record their sixth win in their past seven outings. Damian Lillard paced Portland with 38 points, with CJ McCollum adding 21, Norman Powell scoring 19, and Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter hitting for 10 each for the Trail Blazers.

Portland (38-29) jumped the Lakers into the sixth spot in the Western Conference standings with the victory and captured the season series and a tiebreaker with Los Angeles that could be important in the hunt for the final guaranteed spot in the postseason.

Nurkic said he wants nothing to do with this year’s play-in tournament after enduring it during last season’s playoffs in the NBA’s COVID-forced bubble in Orlando.

“You never know what’s going to happen in those two games,” Nurkic said. “So we know how that was and we are feeling definitely that we don’t want to be in that spot again.”

Friday’s game was the first this season that fans have been allowed in the Moda Center in Portland. Lillard said having a crowd in their corner will help the Trail Blazers.

“It’s extremely significant,” Lillard said. “Especially with the kind of fans that we have. They care, they’re a part of our team. That’s why a lot of players will tell you Portland is one of the most tough places to play.”

Portland is just a game behind the Dallas Mavericks for fifth place with five contests remaining. The Blazers will play their final three games against teams that are ahead of them in the standings, so they can’t afford to take San Antonio lightly.

The Spurs head to the Pacific Northwest after a crucial 113-104 win against the Sacramento Kings on Friday. The victory snapped a five-game losing skid for San Antonio (32-34), which moved its magic number for clinching the 10th spot in the Western Conference standings and the final position in the 7-10 play-in tournament to three with six games to play.

DeMar DeRozan scored 25 points for the Spurs in the win, with 18 of those in the first half. Dejounte Murray had 22, and Lonnie Walker IV and Keldon Johnson hit for 16 each for San Antonio. Eight of Walker’s points came in the final 3:03 of the game as the Spurs cemented the win.

Walker got the start on Friday but was more excited about being on the court in crunch time.

“That’s my favorite part. I could care less about starting,” Walker said. “I could care less about being on the bench. But being able to play in the final few minutes of the game and close it out, that’s my favorite time.”

The Spurs won despite shooting 4 of 22 (18.2 percent) from beyond the arc and committing 13 turnovers.

“We shot 18 percent from 3, so if you are going to win the game on the road shooting like that, you better be playing some defense and we did that,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said.

San Antonio owns the tiebreakers with both New Orleans (currently 11th in the West) and Sacramento (which is 12th) and is just a game behind Memphis for the ninth spot in the standings. Each of the Spurs’ final six games are against teams that have a winning record.

–Field Level Media

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