76ers-Trail Blazers Preview
One of the only low points for the Portland Trail Blazers during a hot streak through January and February was a blowout loss at Philadelphia.
The Trail Blazers look to avoid a new rock bottom on their current cold spell and a disheartening season sweep at the hands of the league-worst 76ers on Saturday night.
An 18-4 stretch from Jan. 10-March 1 jolted Portland (37-36) into solid postseason standing, which it still holds despite a 4-8 mark over the last three-plus weeks.
However, the sixth through ninth places in the Western Conference are packed tightly and the Trail Blazers could drop from the top of that list to the bottom - and out of the playoffs - with nine games left on the schedule.
Portland was worse than only two teams, Golden State (19-3) and San Antonio (18-3), during its run earlier this year but is without back-to-back wins since. It salvaged a split of a key home-and-home set with Wednesday's 109-103 win over Dallas before falling victim to a buzzer-beater in Thursday's 96-94 loss at the Los Angeles Clippers.
Chris Paul inbounded a ball through the legs of a leaping Mason Plumlee with 1.1 seconds left and J.J. Redick drained the winner from just inside the 3-point line, keeping the race for the West's final three spots tight between the Trail Blazers, Mavericks, Houston and Utah.
"Tough way to lose," Damian Lillard said. "We put ourselves in position to win a road game against a really good team and they come up with a really, really tough shot to win it. It happens."
The upside is the conclusion of a stretch of 12 of 15 games away from home, which resulted in a 7-8 record and eight losses in the final nine road games. The Blazers play seven of their final nine at Moda Center, where they've won 14 of 17.
Lillard finished with 18 points and eight assists against the Clippers, making only 4 of 16 shots and 2 of 8 from long range - similar shooting woes to the January loss against Philadelphia (9-63).
The 76ers pulled out a shocking 114-89 win Jan. 16 after Lillard shot only 4 for 18 and had 14 points while backcourt mate C.J. McCollum finished 6 of 18 for 13 points.
That marked Portland's third-largest margin of defeat this season, and it sets the Sixers up with a chance for their first season sweep of the Blazers since 2008-09 while going for their second win in Portland in six tries.
However, much of Philadelphia's production in the latest meeting came inside from Jahlil Okafor, who has been out since Feb. 29 and will miss the rest of the season following knee surgery.
The Sixers are 1-12 without their rookie center and have lost seven straight during a 1-20 stretch. They are still searching for their 10th win to avoid matching their 1972-73 team for the worst record in an 82-game season.
The latest loss might have been more heartbreaking than that of Portland after Denver's Emmanuel Mudiay controlled a loose ball before sinking a 36-foot heave at the buzzer to drop the 76ers 104-103 on Wednesday.
It was Philadelphia's 11th straight road defeat.
"That is a cruel loss," coach Brett Brown told the team's official website. "I bleed for the guys. They put in fantastic days, they deserve a win, and we didn't get one tonight."