Blazers Beat: Portland trying to hold on to sixth place
What's ahead: The Blazers (32-24 entering Tuesday) have lost seven consecutive games against teams that were above .500 when they played them, and 11 of the past 13 games against above .500 teams. Well, the next week includes back-to-back games with L.A. Clippers (7 p.m. Tuesday) and Denver (7 p.m. Wednesday), and then two games with Memphis (7 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Sunday) — all above .500 teams.
Damian Lillard missed the previous two games, a win over San Antonio and a loss against Charlotte, because of a hamstring injury.
What's behind: Boston beat Portland 116-115 on April 13, as Jayson Tatum scored 32 points, including two free throws and a 3-pointer at crunch time. The Blazers passed the ball more, notching 31 assists.
"We just let the ball hop around, and we cut and we screened for each other," Lillard said of the Blazers passing more and shying away from pick-and-rolls. "It's a style that we'll be able to play against any team. It was good to see that we can execute that way." Lillard had 28 points and 10 assists.
The Blazers rallied from double digits down to win 107-106 at San Antonio April 16. Lillard sat out and CJ McCollum scored 29 points. Norman Powell had 22 points, including a basket with 22.8 seconds left. Three Spurs missed potential go-ahead baskets down the stretch. Anfernee Simons added four 3-pointers and 16 points off the bench for Portland.
It's tough to win a game when a team falls behind by 25 points in the first quarter, as the Trail Blazers found out April 18 at Charlotte. The Hornets topped the Blazers 109-101, a respectable score given that Charlotte led 43-18 in the first quarter after Miles Bridges' 3-pointer. Portland played its second game without Lillard (hamstring), but Charlotte played without Gordon Hayward, Devonte Graham and LaMelo Ball. Terry Rozier scored 34 points and hit seven 3-pointers for Charlotte; Carmelo Anthony had 24 points (with six 3-pointers).
"They were locked in. They are a scary team," Anthony said of Charlotte.
New starter: Derrick Jones Jr., a starter before Powell arrived, did not play (coach's decision) against Charlotte. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson started for Portland, fresh off signing a second 10-day contract, and scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds. He was 1 of 5 from the field.
Coach Terry Stotts said he just wanted to give Hollis-Jefferson some playing time to see what the player could contribute to the team.
New player: The Blazers have signed 6-10 forward TJ Leaf, 23 and the 18th pick in the 2017 draft from UCLA, to a two-way contract. He played 139 games with Indiana before being traded to Oklahoma City before the start of the season; the Thunder waived him Dec. 18.
Upcoming opponents: Of the 16 remaining opponents, 14 are firmly in the playoff picture or fighting for their place in the postseason. Only Cleveland and Houston are not fighting for the playoffs.
The Blazers will have their shot at the five teams above them in the Western Conference. They've only beaten the Los Angeles Lakers among teams ahead of them.
They want to stay in sixth place (or higher) in the conference to avoid the play-in games.
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