The race for first place in the Northwest Division will probably be one of the best down the stretch. That’s why the Portland Trail Blazers must be at their best on a key five-game road trip.
Looking for just their second road win in nine games, the Trail Blazers meet the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.
The Trail Blazers (41-25) are in the mix for their first playoff berth since 2003, and first division title in a decade—facts made more remarkable considering they’re just 13-19 on the road in 2008-09.
Portland opened its trip on Sunday with a 98-80 loss to Atlanta. That dropped it one-half game behind Northwest-leading Denver, but also kept it one-half game ahead of Utah, which fell at Orlando.
Following its game against last-place Memphis (17-48), Portland will face Indiana, Cleveland and Milwaukee before returning home. While the Cavaliers are Central Division champions, the Pacers and Bucks are a combined 19 games below .500.
But the Blazers are coming off a frustrating afternoon against Atlanta, scoring their fewest points in more than two months while committing 18 turnovers, leading to 26 points. Portland trailed by nine late in the third quarter, then watched as Atlanta went on a 19-9 run to put the game out of reach.
“You can’t be down on the road and make a comeback,” Brandon Roy told the Blazers’ official Web site. “It’s just too tough. Today we didn’t really get off to a good start. We were only down three at halftime, but even then we weren’t playing well.”
Roy led the Blazers with 29 points while LaMarcus Aldridge added 19 points and six rebounds.
Portland has won four in a row over the Grizzlies, including a 94-90 home victory on Feb. 18, and three in a row in Memphis.
The Grizzlies return to FedExForum after snapping a four-game losing streak with an 89-84 win over Detroit in Sunday. Former Piston Darko Milicic—picked ahead of Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh in 2003—had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“We’ve learned from losing a lot of tight games—when we make mistakes, the other team scores. Tonight, we didn’t make those mistakes,” said Milicic.
The Grizzlies, who will be trying to avoid their fourth straight home loss, hope rookie O.J. Mayo can bounce back from a poor effort against Detroit. Mayo finished with only seven points on 3-of-7 shooting from the floor, making it just the fifth time this season he was held to single digits.
Mayo still leads all rookies in scoring with 18.7 points per game. He had 19 in the loss to the Blazers last month.