Trail Blazers Vs. Grizzlies Preview
By NOEY KUPCHAN
LaMarcus Aldridge's return has made all the difference for the Portland Trail Blazers, who appear to have their mojo back.
The Memphis Grizzlies let one slip away their last time out.
Looking to keep moving in the right direction, the Trail Blazers try to avoid a sixth consecutive loss to the visiting Grizzlies when these playoff hopefuls square off Sunday night.
Portland (47-27) had dropped three straight and eight of 11 before closing a five-game road trip with back-to-back wins, 100-85 to Atlanta on Thursday and 91-74 to Chicago on Friday. Reserve guard Mo Williams led six Blazers in double figures with 18 points as Portland allowed its lowest scoring total of the season.
"Other than us getting our best player back (LaMarcus Aldridge), which changes everything, I think our urgency is going up," All-Star guard Damian Lillard said. "We realized, `All right, it's time to turn it around now. We can't wait and we can't have all of these lackadaisical efforts.'
"Everybody got on the same page and, during these last two games, we've really defended and done everything together."
Aldridge had 25 points and 16 rebounds against the Hawks in his first game after missing seven with back trouble. Though he scored a season-low five while shooting 2 of 10 against the Bulls, he made his presence felt with 13 boards and a season-high four steals.
"He is a load down there; a great player," Chicago center Joakim Noah said. "You can tell when he is on the court, whether he scores or not. He changes their team. He is one of the best in the game."
The Blazers, clinging to fifth place in the Western Conference, are battling Golden State, Phoenix, Memphis (43-29) and Dallas for the final four playoff spots.
"Every game is critical now," coach Terry Stotts said. "This team knows what it has to do. It is easy to get caught up in emotions with the rollercoaster effect of wins and losses. You just can't get too high or too low."
Portland has dropped both meetings with the Grizzlies this season. The Blazers fell 98-81 at home Jan. 28 despite 27 points and 16 rebounds from Aldridge, then suffered a 109-99 road loss March 11 despite 32 points from Lillard.
"We know how important this game is for them and we know how important this game is for us," Grizzlies forward Tayshaun Prince said. "We've had the upper hand against Portland lately, so we know that they're going to come back stronger than ever against us this game."
The Grizzlies saw their three-game winning streak come to an end with Friday's 100-93 loss at Golden State. Zach Randolph and Mike Conley combined for 41 points as Memphis shot 50.6 percent, but the Warriors closed the game with a 14-0 run.
"It was really disappointing," Randolph said. "To be up five with two or three minutes left in the game, not able to execute, not able to get stops was really frustrating."
The Grizzlies, in the midst of a season-high five-game trip, haven't lost back-to-back games since Feb. 3 and 5.
"We've been very good at it," Prince said of the team's ability to bounce back after a loss. "This is a big game on our road trip, especially after losing (Friday)."
Memphis is 4-14 on the road when allowing more than 90 points and 16-1 when it doesn't. The Blazers are averaging 108.2 points at home to rank near the top of the NBA, scoring 90 or fewer just twice on their own court.