With less than four weeks remaining in the regular season, the Portland Trail Blazers know they can’t afford many lackluster efforts - even during a grueling and difficult road trip.
The Blazers, looking to get back on track in their push for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, complete a five-game eastern swing against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night.
Playing their fourth game in five nights Thursday, the Blazers (43-26) nearly handed the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers their second home loss of the season but fell 97-92 in overtime. Portland managed one field goal in the extra period - a 3-pointer from Steve Blake - in falling to 2-2 on its trip.
“You’ve gotta make plays down the stretch and we didn’t do it,” said Portland coach Nate McMillan, whose team lost six of seven on the road prior to this trip. “They did. They made buckets when they needed to, they got stops when they needed to.”
Portland, which hasn’t made the postseason since 2002-03, has allowed 100 or more points just three times in its last 17 games. The Blazers, among seven teams battling for the No. 2 seed, are in the top 10 in the NBA in scoring defense at 95.1 points per game.
Portland has won four in a row against Milwaukee, although three of those victories came at home. The Blazers took the most recent Bradley Center matchup last March 7, 103-101 as LaMarcus Aldridge scored 29 points and hit the winning shot with 2.4 seconds left.
The Blazers also got 21 points from Blake and 20 points and 10 assists from Brandon Roy in that contest.
Roy had just nine points on 4-of-13 shooting in the teams’ latest meeting, a 102-85 Portland home victory Jan. 19, but the star guard averaged 24.7 points in his previous three matchups with the Bucks. He’s reached the 20-point mark in 11 consecutive games, averaging 25.5 over that span to raise his season average to 23.1.
Portland’s Greg Oden recorded career highs of 24 points and 15 rebounds in the Jan. 19 win. The 7-foot center had seven points and nine boards in 12 minutes off the bench Thursday in his second game since missing 15 with a bone chip in his left knee.
Aldridge missed his first game of the season Thursday after suffering a concussion in the Blazers’ 95-85 win over Indiana the previous night. He could play Saturday, as could fellow starter Nicolas Batum, who sprained his left ankle in Wednesday’s victory.
Milwaukee has dropped 10 of 14 and averaged 84.0 points in losing two of its previous three. The Bucks (31-39) will be closing out a six-game homestand after being routed 106-80 by Orlando on Wednesday, their second-most lopsided loss of the season.
Milwaukee has lost three of four at the Bradley Center.
“I think there’s a lesson learned here for us,” said coach Scott Skiles, whose team trails Chicago by 1 1/2 games for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. “Most sporting events are over before they even start, based on the mind-set of the teams that are playing and the players that are playing in it.”
Forward Charlie Villanueva, scoring 18.4 points per game during the Bucks’ 2-3 homestand, looks for another solid performance versus the Trail Blazers. In his last three matchups with Portland, he’s averaging 19.3 points and 7.7 rebounds.
Villanueva and Bucks leading scorer Richard Jefferson had 23 points apiece in the Jan. 19 defeat at Portland.