With Fifth Seed in Sight, Blazers Maintain Game-by-Game Focus

Expectations for the 2015-16 Portland Trail Blazers flew out the window as the team rolled off an impressive 18 wins in 25 games during January and February after a 14-21 start to the campaign. Projected to win just 26 games by Vegas oddsmakers after the departures of four starters in the offseason, the 39-36 Blazers currently sit in sixth place in the Western Conference standings with seven games left to play in the regular season.

While not even the most optimistic Blazer fans could have predicted this season’s success, there is still room for improvement. With Monday’s win over the Sacramento Kings, coupled with the Memphis Grizzlies’ home loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Portland moved to just 2.5 games back of the Grizzlies (41-33) in fifth place.

The remaining schedule for both teams could provide an opportunity to clinch the fifth seed in the West by season’s end. Portland hosts five of their seven remaining opponents on the home floor of Moda Center, while Memphis is forced to travel for four of their eight games left. What’s more, the Blazers’ remaining foes have a combined winning percentage of .558 compared to Memphis’ opponents accumulative mark of .571 – including two games versus the 66-7 Golden State Warriors. Additionally, the Grizzlies have been devastated in the second half of 2015-16 by season-ending injuries to stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, Jr., while centerpiece Zach Randolph has battled an ankle injury of late.

The fifth seed would present a likely matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers in the First Round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Having played the Clippers four times this season, including a win and two narrow defeats, Blazers point guard Damian Lillard believes a meeting with LA in the postseason could favor Portland.

“We would like to [secure the fifth seed],” Lillard said following Monday’s win. “We’ve played the Clippers well, right now that’s who we’d be matched up with if we got that fifth spot… That’s a matchup we think would be a good matchup for us. But at this point, we’ve gotta just keep winning games and keep focusing who’s in front of us.”

Though acknowledging the possibility of moving up in the standings over the next seven games, the Trail Blazers are taking a game-by-game approach to the remaining schedule knowing full well a letdown could result in the team missing the playoffs.

“I honestly haven’t thought about [playoff seeding], I just wanna win as many games as possible,” guard CJ McCollum admitted. “I think that’s everybody’s mindset: protect homecourt, win as many games as possible and see where the chips fall. I haven’t really looked at potential matchups. I haven’t thought about who we may or may not play, just because it’s too much. It’s too much thinking, and you don’t really have control over other teams and what they do. You can only control how you play.”

Aside from the second-place Spurs, Portland has claimed victory at least once this season against the West-leading Warriors, third-place Oklahoma City Thunder and fourth-place Clippers, giving the team the confidence it can compete in the postseason no matter the opponent. 

“I don’t care who we play [in playoffs]," McCollum said. "If we’re the eighth seed, we’re the eighth seed.

“I ain’t ever ran from nobody; I don’t plan on that.”