With a little over six weeks remaining in the regular season, the slumping Portland Trail Blazers know they need to pick up the pace.
A visit from the last-place Minnesota Timberwolves could help them do just that.
Portland tries to continue its recent domination of Minnesota as these Northwest Division rivals conclude their season series Saturday night.
While the 10th-place Trail Blazers (26-31) are hoping to climb into the Western Conference playoff picture, a 1-8 funk has instead set them back. Portland sits two games behind the ninth-place Los Angeles Lakers and a handful in back of the eighth and final postseason spot.
"I think we still have got a chance," said Damian Lillard, who leads all rookies with 18.4 points, 6.4 assists and 2.2 3-pointers per game. "Until it says we can't catch any team for eighth, then that's when we'll be out. We can string wins together at any point. As long as there's a window open, we've got a chance."
After snapping a season-worst seven-game losing streak with Sunday's 92-86 win over Boston, Portland's struggles resumed Wednesday in a 111-109 loss to Denver. Lillard scored 26 points, LaMarcus Aldridge added 22 and J.J. Hickson posted 18 and 14 rebounds, but the Blazers were outscored 72-42 in the paint and allowed 26 points off 19 turnovers.
"It's tough to come up short at the end of a game that we really needed to win," Lillard said. "We know what time it is. ... Guys putting everything out there at this time of the season because we know we've got a chance, and when you come up short on your home floor when you play hard like that, this is the type of feeling you have."
Portland figures to be in higher spirits with Minnesota (20-35) coming to town. The Blazers have taken 13 of 14 meetings at home and 20 of 22 overall, including all three this season. Wesley Matthews has gone 14 for 21 from 3-point range and averaged 26.0 points - 10.9 more than his season mark - in the three games while Lillard's averaged 23.0.
Minnesota is coming off its fourth consecutive loss and 20th in 24 games, 116-94 at the Lakers on Thursday. Continuing to play without Kevin Love and just two days after losing Andrei Kirilenko to a calf injury, the Timberwolves saw Nikola Pekovic go down with an abdominal strain. Pekovic, averaging 15.9 points and 8.8 rebounds, is uncertain to suit up Saturday.
"It's been horrendous. I've never seen anything like this," coach Rick Adelman said. "And it's not just getting injuries, but when the guys do start trickling back, they haven't played together, so we've got no rhythm as a team.
"We're just trying to fit people in. It's been really frustrating, but I give our guys credit. They're still trying to fight through it. After a while, it gets really old, but the schedule doesn't stop. You've got to keep playing."
J.J. Barea scored 20 points off the bench Thursday and Ricky Rubio added 13, 13 assists and eight rebounds. Minnesota has dropped 15 of 17 on the road while surrendering an average of 104.4 points.
"Man, it's tough. I don't think anybody in here has ever lost like this before," said Derrick Williams, averaging 16.5 points and 9.0 boards over the last 10 games. "I mean, we've had only nine or 10 players all season, and it takes a toll on you every single night."
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- Portland Trail Blazers
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- Damian Lillard