Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers (-8, 201.5 o/u)
The Portland Trail Blazers (47-25, 29-7 home) are one win away from clinching a playoff spot. They can punch their ticket to the second season tonight when they host the laboring Phoenix Suns (38-36, 17-18 away) at the Moda Center (10:00 p.m Eastern).
After losing five straight a few weeks ago, Portland has turned things around and comes into tonight riding a three-game win streak and still sitting six games up on the Thunder for top spot in the Northwest Division.
“You can’t say [clinching] isn’t important, because it is, but I think we have to have more discipline of trying to go into every game and just take care of business,” said power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. “And if we win all the games going forward, it just happens. But I don’t think you want to go into the game thinking clinch. That can put too much pressure on the game. I think if we go out and focus on playing the game, everything will work out for us.”
During its most recent win (120-114 against Denver on Saturday), Portland shot 56.5-percent from the floor; Aldridge led the way with 32 points and 11 rebounds, while deadline acquisition Arron Afflalo had one of his best games as a Blazer, adding 21 points.
“These things are important, playing for playoff seeding and playing well in general,” Afflalo said after the game. “Every win is a confidence booster and a momentum gainer for us. We all want to be playing our best basketball here in a few weeks.”
Tonight the Trail Blazers will host a Suns team on the decline. Phoenix owned the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference for much of the season, but has been in a tailspin since dealing guards Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragic at the trade deadline. The squad has fallen to tenth in the West and, after losing 109-97 to the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday, now sits four games back of OKC for the final postseason berth.
The Suns watched a 20-point lead disappear last night; their chances for making the playoffs evanesced at the same time.
With eight games left in the regular season, Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek isn’t writing his team off yet. But he realizes the rest of the season will be one long playoff-type battle. “We’ll find out what kind of character they have,” said Hornacek.
Tonight’s game is an example of two teams heading in different directions. With that in mind, the play tonight is Portland laying the points (-7).
(Photo credit: Joseph Glorioso Photography (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode].)