Nuggets-Trail Blazers Preview
The team Portland is most likely to face in the first round just did it a favor and made it impossible for the Trail Blazers to fall to the seventh seed.
Now all that's left for them to clinch the No. 5 spot is an 11th win in the last 12 meetings with the visiting Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night or a Dallas loss to San Antonio.
The Los Angeles Clippers defeated Memphis on Tuesday to ensure the Blazers won't have to face San Antonio, but a loss and a Mavericks win would still place Portland sixth to face Oklahoma City.
Scenarios aside, Damian Lillard was more focused on simply playing well after Portland (43-38) fell 106-105 at home to Minnesota on Saturday.
"I mean, we're in the playoffs," Lillard said "We just want to do the right things every game. That's the biggest thing is play the right way and give ourselves a chance every night, the best chance. Tonight we didn't do that. 'But like I said, we're in and whoever we end up playing, that's what it is. We want to push ourselves to get as high as we can and finish the season off the right way."
The loss came despite the Blazers shooting 50 percent, and over a 2-2 span, Portland opponents have averaged 116 points while shooting 51.3 percent and 49.4 from 3-point range.
"After the first quarter, we really never were as good as we needed to be defensively," coach Terry Stotts said. "Give credit to Minnesota. They played well. They've been playing well lately. They got momentum, they made big shots and they made big plays. So it's a disappointing loss."
Lillard at least showed some individual improvement. He had 31 points on 11-of-22 shooting after a an eight-game stretch on which he'd been limited to an average of 18.8 points on 32.1 percent.
The last five meetings have been decided by single digits, but four have gone Portland's way as part of three seasons of domination in the series. Lillard hasn't played in the last two - both Blazers wins - and the latest was a 112-106 win in Denver on Jan. 3. C.J. McCollum had 25 points after posting 29 in a December victory, and he's shot 61.1 percent in those games.
The Nuggets (33-48) will finish either 10th or 11th in the West, and while their lottery slot isn't yet locked in, the pick goes to Toronto. They're more concerned with how New York and Houston finish because Denver potentially has both of those draft choices along with Portland's. If Houston doesn't finish in the top 14 slots, the Nuggets will have three first-round picks among the top 20.
They're coming of a 100-84 home loss to Utah to fall to 5-10 since a four-game winning streak from March 6-12.
"You can't let a team go on a run where you don't get stops, you don't score, don't execute," coach Michael Malone said. "That one stretch to close out the third and the fact that we gave them (18) second-chance points and they outrebounded us by eight was the story of the game."
Emmanuel Mudiay scored 19 points and has averaged 16.4 on 40 percent from 3-point range in his last seven. He missed the losses to Portland but scored 18 points in a 108-104 win in Denver on Nov. 9.