If the Portland Trail Blazers hope to reach the postseason for the first time since 2002-03, taking advantage of weaker opponents is imperative - particularly one they’ve already beaten three times this season.
The Blazers look to sweep the season series from the Northwest Division rival Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday when the teams meet for the second time in five days.
Portland (34-32) is 12-19 since going 17-1 from Dec. 3-Jan. 9, winning only three of seven games in March. The slump has the Blazers 10th in the Western Conference - five games behind ninth-place Denver and seven back of eighth-place Golden State.
Their most recent defeat was a 96-85 loss at Sacramento on Thursday. Brandon Roy had 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists for the Blazers, who finished their road trip 3-2.
“I’m still going to go out Saturday (against Minnesota) and give it my best, I’m not going to say it’s all over,” said Roy, who is averaging 22.6 points in his last eight games.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 20 points for Portland, which was held to 38.5 percent (30-for-78) shooting and totaled 20 turnovers - one fewer than the season high it had in a Jan. 16 loss at Boston.
“Right from the start we had no sharpness to ourselves at all,” said Blazers coach Nate McMillan, who is one win away from the 300th of his career. “We didn’t defend and I think we started the game off with four turnovers. I’m lost with this one. I don’t get this game.”
The Blazers won’t have much time to dwell on that defeat as they have 16 games left to make up ground in the West and avoid missing the playoffs.
At the start of this push, they’ll open a three-game homestand against Minnesota (15-49), which has lost three straight and seven of its last nine meetings with Portland.
The Blazers have won four straight at home against the Wolves, but have won just five of their last 11 overall at the Rose Garden.
Portland clinched the season series with a 103-96 victory at Minnesota on Tuesday, but now looks to sweep the set for the first time since going 3-0 in 1998-99.
Roy, who leads the Blazers with 19.7 points, scored 27 in Tuesday’s win and is averaging 24.3 points against the Wolves in 2007-08.
Minnesota - the last-place team in the West - has won three of its last four games, including a 121-116 victory at Seattle on Friday.
Forward Ryan Gomes led seven players in double figures, scoring 23 points and grabbing a season high-tying 15 rebounds for the Wolves, who will miss the postseason for the fourth straight year.
“There are lessons to be learned in these final games and that’s what I’m trying to do here,” Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman said. “We’re not just going to ride this out. … We’ve got to learn and grow.”
Minnesota will look to Jefferson to secure its longest road win streak since a five-game run from Nov. 26-Dec. 7, 2005. Jefferson, the team scoring leader (21.3), is averaging 23.7 points and 11.0 rebounds in his last three games against Portland.