Blazers face Clippers looking to extend 12-game win streak
LOS ANGELES -- The freight train that is the Portland Trail Blazers will roar through Southern California on Sunday night hauling a heavy cargo that includes 12 consecutive victories and visions of locking down the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference.
The Los Angeles Clippers, meanwhile, hope they have the perfect trap set to get back on track after dropping consecutive games, while also looking to secure a playoff spot themselves.
A victory Sunday will give Portland (43-26) its longest winning streak since the 2007-08 squad also ran off 13 consecutive. And the run of momentum comes at the perfect time with the playoffs four weeks away.
But perhaps the real barometer of how the Trail Blazers are looking comes after the meeting against the Clippers (37-31), with back-to-back games against the Houston Rockets (the top team in the Western Conference) and the Boston Celtics (the second-best team in the East).
As the Clippers return home from the road for a quick load of laundry, before heading back out to the Midwest later in the week, one advantage other than familiar surroundings might come if Portland is focused more on its tough schedule later in the week.
As unofficial strategies go, it is not one to have much faith in, but the Clippers could use any advantage they can get at this juncture of their schedule. L.A. is coming off consecutive road defeats at Houston and Oklahoma City that dropped them 1 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot in the West.
Up next is a trip to Minnesota, Milwaukee, Indiana and Toronto. Along with Portland, the Raptors are the NBA's other hot team, pushing their own win streak to 11 games Saturday.
The competition ahead puts the Clippers playoff hopes in jeopardy, but with all of their injuries and the midseason trade of Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistions, just being in contention this late in the season has been a triumph.
"Our guys, with all the stuff that's going on with injuries and stuff, they still are in the race and they should be thrilled," Clippers coach Doc Rovers said. "But that shouldn't be enough. They should want to get there. I think they can. But we're just going to have to stay focused."
Focus has not been an issue for the Trail Blazers, who have been led by Damian Lillard, the Western Conference's most recent player of the week. It is Lillard's second player of the week honor since the calendar flipped to 2018, showing he is only getting better as the season rolls on.
When it comes to being included in the MVP conversation, Lillard is not adverse to the concept.
"Why wouldn't I be mentioned in it?" a matter-of-fact Lillard told the media earlier this month. "But obviously James Harden is having a special season and they are the No. 1 team in the league right now. He's been runner-up for a few years and I feel like he could have easily won it."
Add that Lillard-Harden matchup to the must-see festivities when the Trail Blazers get to that Rockets matchup after facing the Clippers.
There is one potential conflict affecting Lillard's availability for Sunday's game in Los Angeles. Monday is the due date for the birth of his son, and while he is expected to travel with the team to Los Angeles late Saturday night, he intends to be there for his son's birth if it comes early.
"I'll just come back," Lillard said, according to the Portland Oregonian.
The Trail Blazers are relatively healthy heading into Sunday's game something the Clippers have not been able to say at any point this season. Los Angeles will be without starters Danilo Gallinari (hand) and Avery Bradley (groin), who recently underwent surgery and is lost for the season.
Updated March 18, 2018