The Portland Trail Blazers are making a late-season push for a playoff spot—something they haven’t had to worry about very often over the last two decades.
Winners of four straight, the surging Blazers will face a stiff challenge in their pursuit of the postseason as they visit the Indiana Pacers, owners of the NBA’s best record.
Portland has qualified for the playoffs in each of the previous 21 seasons— the longest current run in the NBA. However, a season filled with turmoil and big trades, including the departures of Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells, has left the Blazers on the outside looking in at the playoff picture with 15 games to play.
On Tuesday, Portland kept its win streak alive with a dramatic 100-99 victory over Milwaukee. Derek Anderson and Darius Miles each scored 20 points, but it was Damon Stoudamire’s fallaway jumper with one second left that propelled Portland to the triumph.
“We create some of the things that are going right for us,” Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said. “Guys are pulling for one another and trying to hang together, and give ourselves a chance to get into the playoffs.”
The Blazers are 1 1/2 games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Indiana had its seven-game winning streak snapped with Sunday’s 107-104 loss to Cleveland. The Pacers committed 17 turnovers, leading to 24 Cavalier points.
The Pacers were playing on the road for the sixth time in seven games, but should enjoy the comforts of Conseco Fieldhouse for the remainder of the season. Indiana holds an eight-game lead over Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey for the top seed in the East, and will play 10 of its final 16 games at home.
“That’s a great luxury this time of year when a lot of teams are wearing down,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “This puts us in a good position for (the rest of the year).”
STANDINGS (through March 15): Trail Blazers - 3rd place, 15 GB, Pacific Division. Pacers - 1st place (tied), Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Trail Blazers - Randolph, 20.4 ppg and 10.8 rpg; Stoudamire, 6.2 apg. Pacers - O’Neal, 20.6 ppg and 10.3 rpg; Tinsley, 5.6 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Trail Blazers, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 3; Trail Blazers, 97-95, OT. At Portland, Randolph scored 34 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Blazers.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Trail Blazers - 13-21 on the road; Pacers - 25-6 at home.