PORTLAND, Ore. — The past two seasons, the Trail Blazers have played their best basketball during the second half of the season.
Two years ago, the Blazers went 25-12 down the stretch to finish with 44 wins. Last season, Portland went 17-6 in the final two months, including an NBA-best 13-3 in March, to finish with 41 wins.
Whether the Blazers can put together a similar run in the last 24 games of this season remains to be seen. But Damian Lillard, Portland's All-Star point guard, said the team is ready and knows what's at stake.
"We've got to out there with that mindset that we've got to dominate the [rest] of the season," he said after practice Thursday.
On Friday, Portland visits the streaking Utah Jazz, who have won 11 in a row, in their first game after the All-Star break.
The Blazers are 32-26, tied for sixth place in the Western Conference. But there is little margin for error. Portland is within a half game of fifth place and just 2 1/2 games out of third. They're also only a game ahead of the Clippers, who occupy ninth place.
"Honestly, I can't remember a race this tight this deep into the season," said Blazers head coach Terry Stotts.
The Blazers' remaining schedule is the sixth-most difficult in the NBA, as determined by opponents' combined winning percentage. Sixteen of Portland's remaining 24 games are against teams with winning records. Only two teams the Blazers are competing with for playoff position have more challenging schedules than Portland — the Spurs (first) and Clippers (fifth).
The Pelicans (seventh), Thunder (ninth), Nuggets (10th), Timberwolves (14th) and Jazz (22nd) all have easier schedules than the Blazers.
A couple wins here or a couple losses there could mean the difference between homecourt advantage and missing the playoffs altogether.
"With it still being so tight, every game is important," Lillard said. "Any little thing could make our season go in the right or wrong direction. So we've just got to focus on us."
The 3-on-3 Blazers podcast is on hiatus his week but will return next Thursday. KGW's Orlando Sanchez, Nate Hanson and Jared Cowley did get together to answer one question for this week, though.
Prediction time! The Blazers play three games to wrap up the month of February: Friday at the Jazz (30-28), Saturday at the Suns (18-41) and Tuesday at the Moda Center against the Kings (18-39). Which games will the Blazers win and which will they lose?
- Jared: 38-20
- Nate: 37-21
- Orlando: 37-21
Nate: I’m going to pick the Blazers to go 3-0 to start the “second half” of the season. The Jazz embarrassed the Blazers when they played in Portland last week but I expect Portland to bounce back. Damian Lillard got no help from his teammates in that matchup and the Jazz had several players step up with big games. And although the Jazz have won 11 in a row, the All-Star break may disrupt some of the momentum they had. I expect a motivated Portland team will go into Utah and pick up a crucial win against the streaking Jazz. I think Devin Booker will keep the Suns close but I ultimately think the Blazers will win. And Portland will take care of business at home against the Kings.
Orlando: The race in the West is crazy! Blazers coach Terry Stotts says he can’t remember a race this tight, this late in the season. The first game back from the All-Star break is a big one, against arguably the hottest team in the league. The Jazz have won 11 straight and are tough to beat at home, sporting an 18-9 record at home this season. They say the trend is your friend, it’s a tough draw for the Blazers. Jazz win in SLC. Portland has to take advantage of the rest of the week, facing two of the worst teams in the league. The Phoenix Suns have lost seven in a row and the Sacramento Kings have been terrible on the road. As long as the Blazers show up, that’s back-to-back wins. This is a 2-1 type of week.
Jared: Because of their post-All-Star-break track record the past two seasons, I almost expect Portland to go on the road Friday and beat the Jazz. It wouldn't surprise me at all if it happened. But I can't bring myself to predict it. Utah has won 11 in a row and Salt Lake City is such a tough place to play. Only seven teams in the NBA have fewer losses at home than the Jazz this season. I think the Blazers come up short. Portland should win the other two games, though. The Suns acquired Elfrid Payton at the trade deadline and he's been filling the stat sheet nicely in Phoenix, averaging about 20 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in his first three games with the team. Despite his production, the Suns lost all three of those games and none were close. Phoenix is a bad team built to lose. Portland wins. There's very little to write about the Kings that would interest even the most die-hard NBA fan. They are a bad team. The Blazers beat bad teams. Another win for Portland.
WHAT IS 3-ON-3 BLAZERS?
Every Thursday, three members of the KGW sports team will answer three questions about the Blazers. You can join the conversation on Facebook during a live chat with our panel every Thursday afternoon at 3. Can't join us on Thursday? Not a problem. You can listen later on the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast.
MEET OUR PANELISTS
- Orlando Sanchez is the sports anchor and reporter for KGW News, Sports Sunday and Friday Night Flights. Orlando has covered multiple NBA Finals, NCAA Basketball Tournaments and World Series.
- Jared Cowley is a digital media producer who writes about the Blazers for KGW.com. Before he came to KGW, Jared wrote about the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors as a sports editor at two daily newspapers.
- Nate Hanson is a digital producer who contributes to KGW.com’s coverage of the Blazers, Ducks, Beavers and high school sports.
LISTEN TO KGW'S 3-ON-3 BLAZERS PODCAST