Probably the most important game of the season goes down tonight at the Moda Center. The Portland Trail Blazers (52-28) host the Golden State Warriors (49-30) in a match-up between two playoff bound teams. The Trail Blazers can clinch at least the five-seed with a win against the Warriors. The Warriors clinched a playoff spot with a 112-95 win against the Lakers on Friday and are right on the heels of the Trail Blazers for the five-seed.
The Trail Blazers won their third straight Friday with a 111-99 victory at Utah. In the eight game stretch following the return of LaMarcus Aldridge, the Trail Blazers have been impressive, improving dramatically on defense and holding opponents to 96.3 points during that span. Given that prior to this eight game span the Trail Blazers were giving up 103.3 points, it’s easy to see that they have focused on improving their defense.
Even though the four-seed is still in reach, the five-seed is far more likely for Portland this postseason. Houston sits a game ahead of Portland with two games remaining. The Trail Blazers must win the last two games while having the Rockets lose their last two since Houston holds the tiebreak. The Rockets face the Spurs on Monday and finish the season against the Pelicans in New Orleans. Meanwhile the Trail Blazers host the Clippers on Wednesday to finish up the season. Should be interesting to see how things shake out.
The Warriors are headed to their second consecutive postseason. Led by Stephen Curry, the Warriors will try to make another run in the Western Conference playoffs. Last season, the Warriors beat the Nuggets in the first round but lost to the Spurs in the conference semifinals. On Friday, Curry posted his fourth triple-double of the season with 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists. He has put up a total of 75 points in the last two match-ups with Portland this season. The Trail Blazers won the first meeting in late November but have lost the last two against the Warriors.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- Joel Freeland will be a game-time decision for tonight’s game. Freeland has been sidelined since February 11 with a sprained right MCL.
Golden State Warriors:
- Andre Iguodala sat out Friday’s game against the Lakers. Coach Mark Jackson decided to rest Iguodala in the second game of a back-to-back. He should be available tonight.
- Jermaine O’Neal also sat out Friday’s game to rest. He should be available for tonight’s game.
- Festus Ezeli is out after having surgery to reinforce the MCL and PCL ligaments in his right knee at the end of last season.
Keys To The Game
Portland Backcourt vs. Golden State Backcourt. Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews anchor the Trail Blazers’ backcourt. Lillard is second in the league in fourth quarter points (behind only Kevin Durant) and showcased his closing ability on Friday against the Jazz. Lillard had two points in the first three quarters before scoring 14 in the fourth, which helped the Trail Blazers pull away. Matthews had 21 points on Friday and has been impressive against the Warriors this season, averaging 19.0 points. The Golden State backcourt, comprised of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, has been lights out all season. They have even earned the nickname of “The Splash Brothers“. Curry is averaging 32.3 points and eight assists in three games against Portland this season. Thompson adds to Curry’s lethal play on a consistent basis. Thompson is averaging 24.7 points against the Trail Blazers. This backcourt duel should be very entertaining.
Protect Home Court. The Trail Blazers are 29-10 at home this season. They have the fantastic opportunity to close out the season with two home games. The Warriors have a unique opportunity as well. With a win tonight, the Warriors can tie the single-season franchise record for road wins. Both teams have something to fight for as they battle for the five-seed. Playing at the Moda Center should give the Trail Blazers the advantage they need to get a win tonight.
Joel Freeland. Freeland hasn’t seen the court in a very long time. After going through the last few practices, Freeland’s status is questionable for tonight’s game. David MacKay went into the details of Freeland’s injury and what it means to have him back in the lineup. Even though Freeland will be rusty, I believe it’s important for him to get some court time tonight. His play, if it is consist with his early season performance, will help the Trail Blazers defense. It will also give them another option if Robin Lopez or LaMarcus Aldridge get into foul trouble. Welcome back Mr. Freeland.