Thunder-Trail Blazers Preview
With their sights set on the West's fifth seed, the Portland Trail Blazers may have the path to get there.
Winners of seven straight at Moda Center, the Blazers begin a season-ending three-game homestand seeking to secure a playoff spot in Wednesday night's matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Though home-court advantage for the opening round is unattainable, the Trail Blazers have a chance to enter the postseason with plenty of momentum. They'll host non-contenders Minnesota and Denver after facing a Thunder team that's already locked into the No. 3 seed.
Portland (42-37) has a magic number of one to clinch a berth and trails fifth-place Memphis by one-half game, an impressive feat for a team that underwent a massive offseason makeover and was nine games under .500 on Jan. 9.
By surpassing the Grizzlies, the Blazers can avoid a first-round draw with the Thunder, who easily won both meetings in Oklahoma City this season but lost 115-110 in Portland on Jan. 10. Whether that scenario is beneficial is debatable, as Portland lost three of four to its other potential quarterfinal opponent, the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Blazers return home having won five of six following Tuesday's 115-107 victory at Sacramento, receiving 30 points from C.J. McCollum and season highs of 20 points and 16 rebounds from Maurice Harkless to earn just their second win in their last 11 road games.
"Most of our (road) losses were to playoff-caliber teams,'' coach Terry Stotts said. ''It's been tough for us lately on the road.''
Portland has had a far easier time at home, especially of late. It's won 16 of 18 at Moda Center and has outscored opponents by an average of 13.7 points over its last six there, allowing 97.8 points per game on 40.9 percent shooting during that stretch.
Oklahoma City (54-24) has lost four straight when scoring under 111 points and is a pedestrian 19-21 when failing to hit that number. The Thunder had no problem reaching that mark on Tuesday, amassing 75 points over the second and third quarters while pulling away to beat Denver 124-102.
Kevin Durant had 26 points and Russell Westbrook compiled 13 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists for his 17th triple-double this season, the most of any player since Magic Johnson's 17 in 1988-89.
Westbrook has notched six during the Thunder's 10-2 stretch, including a 17-point, 16-assist, 10-rebound effort in a 128-94 rout of Portland on March 14.
''He's one of those rare guys that can dominate a game without taking a shot,'' coach Billy Donovan said. ''He distributed, he rebounded, he pushed the tempo. He created a lot of scoring opportunities for our team.''
With the Thunder's playoff position set, there's a chance Donovan could rest players on the second of a back-to-back, though he said he's hesitant to do so with the team playing so well.
''Sometimes when you rest players you take away that rhythm and flow but you eliminate the risk of injury,'' he said. ''What we are going to do is after every game we will evaluate where each individual player is at.''
The Thunder, who opened this four-game trip with Sunday's 118-100 defeat at Houston, have lost three straight at Portland.