While the Boston Celtics are battling for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Portland Trail Blazers are watching their Western Conference play-in berth hopes gradually evaporate.
The Trail Blazers will be trying to break out of a slump in which they have lost four consecutive games and nine of 12 when they host the Boston Celtics on Friday night.
Portland (31-38) is playing the second contest of a stretch in which they have eight of nine at home. The first result was another blow as the Trail Blazers led by as many as 16 points Tuesday night before losing to the visiting New York Knicks 123-107.
The setback left Portland 2 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the final play-in berth. The Trail Blazers are in 13th place and also trail the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans by two games with just 13 games remaining.
All-Star guard Damian Lillard is not pleased that Portland’s play has been going downhill at a crucial time.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Lillard said after the loss to the Knicks. “When you’re fighting for something and you look at the last two weeks, it’s like, we let a lot of opportunity slip away.
“And you look at what everybody else does in the same month that we’re in. … You see teams taking advantage of these opportunities and us not doing that. We’re just kind of falling behind.”
In addition to the defending East champion Celtics, the list of upcoming Portland opponents includes six games against teams in playoff position as the top six in the West — two games apiece against the Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings, and one apiece against the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors. The Trail Blazers also have games against three teams in the play-in battle — the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans.
Against the Knicks, Portland failed to protect a big lead and was outscored 74-52 in the second half.
“We obviously have to play better than we played the last three quarters of this game to be able to beat really anybody, so you worry about it,” Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “That’s what keeps you up at night.”
Boston (48-22) is 2-1 on a six-game road trip that includes a stunning 111-109 loss to the worst-in-the-West Houston Rockets.
The Celtics bounced back to edge the Minnesota Timberwolves 104-102 on Wednesday. Jaylen Brown scored 35 points and made five 3-pointers to help Boston escape.
“For us to be able to win games with adversity, it’s going to be key for us,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “We’re going to get everybody’s best shot. For us, it’s just to keep playing. Teams are going to go on runs and we’ve just got to do a good job of taking the blow and then delivering our own.”
Boston stands 2 1/2 games behind the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks entering Thursday’s play, and one game ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers in the battle for the second seed.
All-Star Game MVP Jayson Tatum had just 22 points for the second straight game and missed all eight of his 3-point attempts while going 4 of 16 overall against the Timberwolves. He is 2 of 18 from 3-point range over the past two games after knocking down 17 of 41 in the previous three games.
Tatum had four 30-point outings — two of 40 or more — in a five-game stretch prior to the slump.
Boston forward Robert Williams III (hamstring) is expected to miss his seventh straight contest.
Trail Blazers forward Jerami Grant (quadriceps) could miss his second in a row.
Tatum made six 3-pointers and scored 30 points when the Celtics posted a 115-93 home win over Portland on March 8. Lillard had 27 points for the Trail Blazers.
–Field Level Media