The Portland Trail Blazers started off the season better than expected, but then hit a shooting slump in January. Now the Blazers are scrambling to grasp a decent spot for the 2014 NBA playoffs.
The Blazers ended their four-game losing streak after a win over the New Orleans Hornets, 111-103, on Friday. The win has them secured in fifth place for the Western Conference – for now.
On Sunday, the Blazers fell short by one point to the Golden State Warriors, who are currently trailing behind Portland in sixth place. The Blazers were down two points with six seconds remaining and forward Nicolas Batum was at the line ready to shoot two free-throws that could have potentially tied the game. He made the first one, but his second shot bounced off the rim. It wasn’t over yet. Batum grabbed his own rebound with 3.5 seconds left, but his missed three-point attempt concluded the devastating loss, 113-112.
Injuries have started to return for the Blazers. All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge is currently out with a lower back contusion. He’s missed the last two games and he’s questionable for Thursday’s game against the Washington Wizards. Aldridge is averaging 23.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. His absence is noticeable, but the starters have been scoring in double digits for the past two games.
Point-guard Mo Williams returned for Sunday’s game against the Warriors after a hip injury, and center Joel Freeland is not expected to return for the regular season due to a sprained MCL in his right knee.
Although Portland does not want to talk about playoffs until they are officially in, they can’t deny it’s just around the corner. Only 15 games remain and the Blazers are currently 43-24. If the Blazers finish in the fifth seed they will posses home court advantage, but the team still has a chance to earn a better spot.
“Luckily, we put ourselves in a good position to have a cushion,’’ Matthews said after the loss against the Houston Rockets. “But we can’t be content with that, and we are not content with it. We want to continue to get better because we are pushing for a seed. We still have time. We still have chance do that, to get better and grow. But these are the type of games we have to win to make it to the playoffs the way we want to make it in, and advance.’’
Portland fans are rooting for another playoff return. Their last appearance was in 2011, and they haven’t played past the first round since 2009, led by Brandon Roy. This year has felt different from previous years. Team chemistry is visible and they finally have a solid lineup and bench. They have shown they can hold their own against any team, but also quickly fall apart in the last five minutes of the game. The Blazers have surprised fans this season, and we only hope they do the same in the playoffs.