Heat begin critical western trip in Portland

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Miami Heat face a critical five-game western road trip, starting Thursday night at the Moda Center against the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Heat are five games below .500 at 15-20, which is still good enough for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. They've lost four of their last five and are 6-13 since Dec. 1.

Miami has dropped two straight on the road, but did put the brakes on a four- game slide last time out. The Heat defeated the Brooklyn Nets, 88-84, in South Beach on Sunday.

Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade combined to score 51 points to lead the Heat. Bosh had 26 and five rebounds, while Wade scored 25 to go with six rebounds and seven assists.

Hassan Whiteside added 11 points and 10 rebounds off the bench for the Heat, who avoided what would have been their first five-game losing streak in almost four years.

"You don't take winning for granted when you're having a season like we (are) right now," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Miami hasn't lost five in a row since Feb. 27-March 8, 2011, during LeBron James' first season with the Heat. The Heat don't have to worry about that now, but they will face a tough challenge on this trip with stops against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers, Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings on the schedule.

The Blazers have won five of their last six and share the second-best record in the league (27-8) with the Atlanta Hawks. Thursday is game six of a seven- game homestand and Portland is 4-1 thus far with its only loss at the hands of the Hawks. The Blazers will close the residency on Saturday against the Orlando Magic.

Portland rebounded from its setback versus Atlanta with a 98-94 victory over the Lakers on Monday. LA was without Kobe Bryant, but Damian Lillard was sensational.

Lillard scored 16 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Trail Blazers survive a tough test from the Lakers. Lillard shot 4-of-8 from 3-point range and added six rebounds and five assists to help Portland win.

Down by seven with less than 5 1/2 minutes to go, Lillard took over the game. He hit triples on back-to-back possessions to start a 12-2 Portland run to put the Trail Blazers up for the first time since early in the third quarter.

After LaMarcus Aldridge's turnaround jumper with 3:32 to play, Lillard would be the only Trail Blazers player to make a shot from the field the rest of the game. Lillard scored nine straight Portland points, including his layup with 36 seconds to go that put the Trail Blazers up for good.

"He makes tough shots when you need it, he's a special player," Portland coach Terry Stotts said of Lillard.

The Trail Blazers also got 21 points from Aldridge and 12 points and 12 rebounds from Meyers Leonard.

The Heat have taken three in a row from the Blazers and four of the last five in Portland.