Although the Portland Trail Blazers will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year, they are optimistic about the future.
The Blazers continue their quest to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2002-03 when they meet the lowly Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday in their final home game of the season.
Portland (40-40) finished .500 in 2003-04 before posting a losing record the last three seasons, twice failing to win more than 27 games in that stretch. But behind second-year players Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers have made big strides this season.
If they win their final two games - Tuesday against Memphis (22-58) and Wednesday at Phoenix - the Blazers will finish with their most wins since 2002-03, when they went 50-32 and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Dallas.
Coach Nate McMillan said finishing with a winning record is a big step in the right direction.
“For this season it’s good to get there because you need to be in the 40s or better to have any chance at the playoffs. I’m excited about this team,” he said after Portland’s 108-105 win over the Mavericks on Saturday. “It’s been a good year for us, to improve the way we have.”
The Blazers are looking to win back-to-back games for the first time since sweeping a home-and-home series with the Los Angeles Clippers from March 21-22. They shot a season-high 58.7 percent from the field Saturday, getting 23 points from Roy and 22 from Aldridge.
“Coach wants us to continue to play hard and finish what we started at the beginning of the season,” said Roy, who leads the Blazers with 19.3 points per game. “Do not fold up the tent early and play with an attitude, and show the fans what they can look forward to next year.”
The Grizzlies are also looking to next year as they prepare to finish with back-to-back losing seasons.
“It’s has been a long year,” said rookie Mike Conley. “There were a lot of ups and downs.”
Memphis has the third-worst record in the Western Conference, but it’s played better recently - especially on the road, where it has won four of six. The Grizzlies are just 8-31 on the road.
Seattle is the only team that has a worse record than Memphis and Minnesota in the West.
Portland has won both meetings against the Grizzlies this season, including a 110-98 victory at home on Nov. 9. The Blazers haven’t swept a season series from Memphis since taking all three matchups during the 1998-99 season.
They’re trying to win 28 games in Portland for the first time since going 30-11 in 2001-02.