Portland is one-half game ahead of Minnesota and 2 1/2 ahead of Utah in the race for fourth and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. With nine games remaining, the Blazers have three games in hand on the Timberwolves and one on the Jazz.
“We can’t worry about the standings anymore,” Blazers guard Derek Anderson said. “We just have to finish our games. The rest will take care of itself.”
Anderson had 21 points and seven assists as the Blazers turned in their second straight decisive victory, 100-86 over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday.
Portland was coming off a confident 112-95 thumping of the league-leading Dallas Mavericks on Friday which snapped a three-game losing streak.
However, the Blazers have been hampered by Scottie Pippen’s knee injury, which landed him on the injured list following arthroscopic surgery on March 19. The veteran leader is not supposed to return until April 9 against San Antonio.
“We can’t wait to get him back,” Anderson said, “but everyone is doing what they’re capable of doing and we’re still winning.”
Pippen is averaging 11 points, 4.4 rebounds and a team-high 4.5 assists per game.
The red-hot Jazz are one of the teams chasing the Trail Blazers.
Utah has won seven of eight, with its lone loss in that span coming at surging San Antonio.
The Jazz’s late-season surge has them feeling pretty good heading into the final eight games, but Malone knows his team is facing an uphill battle in the highly competitive Western Conference.
“We’re not there yet. We’ve still got eight games left, so we’ll see,” Malone said. “We just have to execute, stay within our stuff, do what we’re supposed to do as a team and believe in each other, and then we’ll be fine.”
STANDINGS (through April 1): Jazz - 4th place, 12 GB, Midwest Division. Trail Blazers - 2nd place, 6 GB, Pacific Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Jazz - Malone, 20.9 ppg and 7.8 rpg; Stockton, 7.7 apg. Trail Blazers - Wallace, 18.3 ppg and 7.6 rpg; Pippen, 4.5 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Jazz, 2-1.
LAST MEETING: March 26; Jazz, 94-85. At Utah, Malone scored 24 points and Harpring had 18 points and nine rebounds to pace the Jazz. Wallace scored 21, but was the only starter in double figures for the Blazers.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Jazz - 17-20 on the road; Trail Blazers - 25-12 at home.
INJURIES: Jazz - F Jarron Collins (knee); C Curtis Borchardt (foot); G Raul Lopez (knee). Trail Blazers - G Pippen (knee); C Ruben Boumtje Boumtje (knee); C Chris Dudley (side).