The Portland Trail Blazers have seen their playoff hopes fade thanks in part to a tough schedule over the last two weeks. They hope a road trip that shouldn’t be nearly as challenging can help them get back in the race.
The Trail Blazers look to avoid falling back to .500 for the first time in nearly 12 weeks when they face the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday in the opener of a five-game trip.
Portland (31-30) was in the thick of the playoff hunt in the loaded Western Conference before going 6-14 in its last 20 games. The Blazers’ schedule hasn’t done them many favors lately, as they went 2-4 in a six-game stretch that featured two meetings with the Los Angeles Lakers and one apiece with Boston, Phoenix and Golden State.
Portland was outscored 60-41 in the first half and shot 41.0 percent from the field overall in its 97-92 loss to the Suns on Tuesday.
“We looked tight,” said Blazers coach Nate McMillan, whose team has had a winning record since beating New Orleans on Dec. 17 to improve to 13-12. “We missed shots and I thought defensively the first half we weren’t physical enough.”
McMillan’s club has fallen to 10th in the West, 6 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot. The Blazers will try to cut into that deficit on this trip, which features four games against opponents that have losing records and three against teams in last place in their respective divisions - including this matchup with the Central Division-worst Bucks (23-38).
The Blazers, though, could struggle to take advantage of the favorable matchups on the road, where they haven’t fared well this season. They’re 22-9 at home, but 9-21 on the road, where they’ve lost eight of nine since Jan. 23.
During that nine-game stretch, Portland has averaged 85.7 points - 9.6 below its overall season average - and shot 42.1 percent from the field.
That could bode well for the Bucks, who have had much more success at home than they have had away from it. Milwaukee is 17-12 at the Bradley Center, compared to 6-26 on the road.
The Bucks recorded season highs in points and assists in their last outing, a 118-106 victory over Seattle on Wednesday that was their fourth win in five home games. They’ve beaten Detroit, Denver and Cleveland during that stretch, and the one loss was 96-94 to surging San Antonio.
“We definitely got it done. We’re a tough team to beat when we’re passing the ball like that,” forward Charlie Villanueva said after Milwaukee had 36 assists Wednesday. “Guys did a tremendous job of finding the open man and guys made big shots. It was a good feeling.”
Villanueva had a season-high 32 points for the short-handed Bucks. Michael Redd couldn’t finish the game because he needed six stitches in his nose after a collision with Seattle’s Kevin Durant, and starting point guard Mo Williams didn’t play at all because of an abdominal strain. It’s unclear if either player will be able to return Friday.
Portland won the first meeting with Milwaukee 117-113 in overtime Dec. 9 behind 26 points, eight rebounds and nine assists from Brandon Roy. The All-Star guard is 21-for-28 from the field in two career games against the Bucks.