Trail Blazers-76ers Preview

The Associated Press

The Portland Trail Blazers are well aware that they need to perform better on the road if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.

The Blazers will try to start a five-game trip in winning fashion Monday night when they take on a Philadelphia 76ers team which has significantly dimmer postseason hopes.

With 17 games remaining, Portland (31-34) has plenty of ground to make up to move into the Western Conference's top eight but is among six teams within 5 1/2 games of each other for the final three playoff spots.

The Blazers have helped themselves lately with back-to-back home wins, but their next five games are on the road, where they've dropped 12 of 14. That doesn't bode well heading into a trip that features four teams currently in playoff position, not to mention two sets of games on back-to-back nights.

"This is a make-or-break road trip for us. I keep saying we're right there. If we play good on this trip then anything is possible," said LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 31 points and 12 rebounds in a 112-101 win over Detroit on Saturday.

Aldridge posted a third straight double-double, and J.J. Hickson recorded his 10th in 12 games since the All-Star break with 18 points and 15 boards.

The solid play of those big men has helped Portland win six of 10, including double-digit victories in the last two.

"Hopefully it's a little momentum for us going out on the road," coach Terry Stotts said.

The lone opponent Portland will face on this trip that is not in position for the postseason is Philadelphia (25-40), which is eight games back of eighth-place Milwaukee in the East.

The 76ers will try to boost their faint hopes by finishing with a winning record on a four-game homestand. After getting edged by red-hot Miami on Wednesday, they defeated Central Division-leading Indiana 98-91 on Saturday.

"I think our guys are settling into a really good style. I'm really happy with the way they've responded," coach Doug Collins said. "Our guys want to win, and they want to build. This is not a situation where our guys don't want to do anything other than that

"Just watching the tape, we're playing really connected basketball."

Spencer Hawes had 18 points, a season-high eight assists and personal bests of 16 rebounds and seven blocks in Philadelphia's third victory in 16 games. Jrue Holiday provided 27 points, 12 assists and six rebounds.

"I really like the nucleus we have here and what we've built here," Hawes said. "This year has been tough on everybody. I think if we can keep the right mindset going forward, and finish out strong, I think the future is bright."

Holiday had 29 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in Portland on Dec. 29, but the 76ers fell 89-85. Nicolas Batum had 22 points and eight assists to lead the Blazers, who have won three straight in this series - all in Portland.

Wesley Matthews missed that last meeting, but his 20.5 career scoring average versus Philadelphia is easily his highest against any opponent.

The Blazers are playing in Philadelphia for the first time since an 88-79 loss Nov. 30, 2010.

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