Playoff position focuses Blazers

Portland vows not to be complacent as regular season ends

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers Writer



TUALATIN, Ore. — Maybe it was the sunny weather in the area that had something to do with the Portland Trail Blazers being in such a good mood on Tuesday.

What really energized the Blazers was that they now know that their season won’t end after game 82.

“I think everybody is excited about it, but we understand that these three games are really important for us,” said Damian Lillard when asked how things have changed since Portland clinched a playoff spot with Robin Lopez’s arm draped over his shoulders.

Lillard, Lopez, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum did their media interviews in what was basically giant group-hug in Tualatin.

With a 2-game lead over Golden State for the fifth spot in the Western Conference playoffs, the Blazers would face Houston next. The Rockets are now all but cemented as the No. 4 seed.

Golden State, the team chasing the Blazers, comes to Portland on April 13 with a chance to win the season series tiebreaker should the two teams finish with the same record and pick up a game in the standings.

Lopez said on the Blazers’ mentality: “I think we really want to get these next two. If we win these two, then beat Golden State that puts us in pretty good position.”

“The message stays the same,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said. “Once we get to the playoffs everything is more focused, more detail-oriented. It’s just a different time but for these last four games I don’t think the message changes.”

Stotts did mention transition defense as something in particular that he wanted the team to improve on.

Matthews echoed the message of his coach, saying that the Blazers have to “continue to get better.”

“We’ve got an agenda, we’ve got a goal,” he added. “Transition defense has been our achilles heel. (It is) something we continue to work on.”

The fraternal atmosphere lent itself to questions about the team’s chemistry being a pillar of strength this season.

“We said it early to start the year that it was different, something about us, something about this team. It was evident when we won those 11 (straight games),” said Matthews.”

“Definitely something different, that’s for sure,” Lopez responded almost immediately.

However, a few too many breakdowns in transition or a few stagnant offensive possessions could be the difference in playing the L.A. Clippers or the Oklahoma City Thunder rather than the Houston Rockets who are currently without two starters including All-Star center Dwight Howard.

“Our priority is Sacramento right now,” Stotts said.

While teams in the playoffs sometimes choose to rest players, Stotts believes that their schedule has enough rest in between that playing will beneficial to maintaining a rhythm.

“I mean Houston has four games in five nights. We’ve got four games the rest of the way, we’ve got two days off just now. We will have two days off next week so I think there’s enough rest. With our schedule, I think playing is important to maintain our edge and maintain our game,” he said.

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