Trail Blazers Vs. Wizards Preview
March 20, 2014
By JEFF BARTL
The Portland Trail Blazers have struggled in LaMarcus Aldridge's most recent absence as they fight to earn home-court advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
The Washington Wizards are battling for that same goal in the East, and they'll look to win a fourth straight meeting with host Portland as Aldridge is expected to sit out a fourth straight game.
Portland is 6-2 overall this season without Aldridge, but it's hardly played well in its last two as the All-Star big man continues to nurse a back contusion.
After beating New Orleans on Friday, the Blazers (44-24) blew an 18-point lead in Sunday's 113-112 loss to Golden State before struggling to beat NBA-worst Milwaukee 120-115 in overtime on Tuesday.
Aldridge, averaging career highs of 23.4 points and 11.1 rebounds, is doubtful to play in this contest but could return Saturday against Charlotte. Portland sits in fifth place in the West, 1 1/2 games behind Houston.
Wesley Matthews finished with 26 points, Nicolas Batum had 21 points, nine boards and nine assists while Mo Williams added a season-high 23 points off the bench Tuesday.
The Blazers had dropped five of their previous six.
"We're always going to take a win. Ugly, pretty, it doesn't matter," Matthews said. "But we're not happy with the way that we played. We've got to come out with urgency because every game matters for us and that's how we've got to play going into the postseason."
Portland was one off its season high for 3-point attempts with 39, hitting just 12. Coach Terry Stotts realizes it may be difficult for his team to get energized for a contest against the league's worst team, but he's hoping it can regroup against a solid Wizards club.
"We didn't come out with the urgency that we needed," Stotts said. "We struggled to shoot the ball from three. Obviously a couple of guys struggled to shoot. We understand that we were very fortunate to win the game."
Damian Lillard finished with a game-high 25 points in the first meeting with Washington on Feb. 3, but John Wall scored 22 and Trevor Ariza added 20 in the Wizards' 100-90 victory.
Washington (35-32) is fighting to earn one of the East's top four seeds as it prepares to make its first playoff appearance since 2007-08.
The Wizards didn't get a four-game West Coast trip off to a good start, though, falling 117-111 in overtime to Sacramento on Tuesday. They had won 10 of 13 but squandered an 11-point fourth-quarter lead.
"We were up five points (with 24 seconds left) and celebrating like we had already won the game," said Marcin Gortat, who had 19 points and 14 rebounds. "We loosened up way too much. We got punished for being too cocky."
Wall had 14 points and five turnovers before fouling out after averaging 25.7 points over his previous three. The Wizards had won six of seven on the road.
"You've just got to play better in clutch time, and at the end of the day we get punished," Gortat said. "We get punished for being too confident. We've got to pay the price now."
Washington has won the last two meetings in Portland after dropping the previous six.