NBA

Timberwolves, Blazers battle to get back into contention

The No. 8 playoff seed in the Western Conference is within reach for both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers. When Minnesota hosts Portland on Monday in Minneapolis, the Wolves will sit 1.5 games behind the Blazers in the standings.

Portland, however, would currently be the first team on the outside of the postseason. At 26-35, the Trail Blazers are chasing that final spot in the West, 1.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets.

Minnesota has played well as of late and is among a number of teams that still has a shot at the No. 8 spot. That makes Monday's tilt at Target Center a particularly big one for both sides.

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The Timberwolves (25-37) let an opportunity slip through their fingertips on Saturday, falling to the San Antonio Spurs on the road in an overtime contest. A win in San Antonio would have had Minnesota even closer to Portland heading into Monday's game.

"It was a great opportunity for us to get a great road trip, win three out of four," Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Instead, we're going home three games behind with only 20 games left."

Portland has won two straight, including a 14-point victory over Brooklyn on Saturday. C.J. McCollum scored 31 points in the Blazers' win, which was their second-highest scoring output of the season.

"It was nice to see the ball go in the basket," Blazers coach Terry Stotts told The Oregonian. "Offensively, it was a very good night for us all night. We moved the ball, made shots, played with confidence. So that was very encouraging."

Minnesota and Portland have only faced off once so far this year, with the Blazers earning a 95-89 win in Minneapolis back on New Year's Day. Including Monday, these same two teams will square off a total of three more times in the late portion of the season.

Given that both are chasing the same thing -- the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs -- there will be plenty at stake in each of those three meetings.

"We've played good games," Blazers guard Damian Lillard told NBA.com after Saturday's win. "The way we've played has been fun. ... And it's fun to be chasing something."

Minnesota had won four of its last five before Saturday's road loss to the Spurs, but even the way the Wolves competed in that overtime defeat can be taken as a positive for a young team still finding its way.

With guard Zach LaVine is sidelined for the rest of the year with a torn ACL, Minnesota has seen players like Nemanja Bjelica step up in increased minutes. But the Wolves need to find a way to win consistently down the stretch if they hope to have a shot at the playoffs.

"You've got to play great for the entire game," Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Three quarters doesn't get it done. Three and a half quarters doesn't get it done. You have to do it start to finish."