The Portland Trail Blazers are playing well and still in the hunt for the fourth seed in the Western Conference as they only have two games remaining in the regular season. Their chances are slim, as the Houston Rockets (53-27) will have to lose their last two games after beating the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday night. Portland (52-28) will have to win their remaining two games as well in order to take over the fourth seed. Houston has their games left against the San Antonio Spurs at home and the Pelicans again in New Orleans. Portland will be hosting the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers in their remaining games.
Based strictly on each teams record, Houston and Portland should go 1-1 in those two games. Portland has an advantage though with both games being played at home. The Trail Blazers look to be in good shape to maintain the fifth seed, with Golden State a few games back with a 49-30 record. The key to the Golden State game for the Blazers will be to contain Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and limit their three pointers. Curry is shooting 42% from beyond the arc this season, and Thompson is right behind him at 41.8% from deep. David Lee returned to the Warriors lineup on Friday after a hamstring injury. Golden State has been hurting on the boards lately without Lee, but his presence in the lineup tonight will create a battle in the paint with LaMarcus Aldridge. My key for the Blazers to win against Golden State will be for them to make more threes against the hot shooting Warriors. I believe if they do this they will win the game.
The Trail Blazers game against the Clippers is a different story. The Clippers are surging this year under Coach Doc Rivers, and Blake Griffin is having a career year averaging 24.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.14 steals, while shooting 52% from the field. There is no stopping Griffin; he will get his points and rebounds. When you have a point guard like Chris Paul feeding you the ball that is inevitable. The key for the Blazers will be forcing him out of the paint and making him take jumpers. Robin Lopez and Aldridge can’t let Griffin get anywhere near the hoop, or else they are going to get dunked on. Griffin has established a pretty good jumper this year, but they need to take a chance and play off of him and hope he doesn’t have a hot shooting night. It also helps that the Clippers will be coming off a game against Denver the night before.
It will be important for the Blazers to win their remaining two games, even if they only secure the fifth seed. They need to establish themselves as a threat to the team they face in the first round of the playoffs. Now is the time they need to be playing their best team basketball of the year. As along as they keep doing what they’ve been doing all year on offense, while increasing their defensive intensity, the Blazers should be just fine. It will be interesting to see who Portland ends up facing in the first round, and soon we will know.