NBA schedule 2014: Wizards visit Blazers; Wolves face Rockets

Minnesota visits Houston still chasing playoff hopes, and Washington takes a trip out west to take on Portland.

The NBA's usual Thursday nationally televised schedule will take a backseat to the NCAA Tournament, but there are still four games on the docket.

The main course: Timberwolves vs. Rockets

8 p.m. ET

It will already be a fairly entertaining style between the two squads, but it seems as though both the Wolves and Rockets are playing for something. Minnesota finds itself 5.5 games back of both Dallas and Memphis for the final Western Conference playoff spot, and Rick Adelman's team also has to consider Phoenix in the battle up the standings. They must have hope coming off a 123-122 overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks.

Houston has won both meetings between the two clubs but might be a little vulnerable with Dwight Howard likely out with an ankle issue. James Harden and company lost three straight road games to Oklahoma City, Chicago and Miami before getting back on track sans Howard with a blowout of the Utah Jazz on Monday.

A little three-point defense by the Timberwolves -- Rockets guard Patrick Beverley has gone 9-for-16 from three-point range in two games against Minnesota -- and perhaps they can keep chasing the postseason.

The appetizer: Thunder vs. Cavaliers

7 p.m. ET

Cleveland losing six of its last eight might not bode well for playing the Western Conference elite. But taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder at home at least gives the Cavs a shot. The 26-42 Cavs are closer to a .500 team at home (15-18) while the 49-18 Thunder are less threatening as a road squad (21-11). Mike Brown's team has the pieces to match up with Oklahoma City.

The Cavaliers beat the Thunder 114-104 on Feb. 26 thanks to a balanced scoring attack, but then there are injury issues to consider. Luol Deng and Kyrie Irving are out for Cleveland because of various ailments, but Oklahoma City will likely be without Russell Westbrook who is a game-time decision as the Thunder slowly bring him along from his last knee injury, according to The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry.

The dessert: Wizards vs. Trail Blazers

10 p.m. ET

Portland, once the most refreshing and surprising story of the NBA season, is falling -- fast. OK, that might be exaggeration, but every loss is exaggerated in the tight Western Conference standings. The Trail Blazers are now in fifth place, just a game and a half ahead of Golden State. And they must fight on without their engine, LaMarcus Aldridge, who is battling a back injury and doubtful for the game Thursday.

If there's blood in the water, expect the Wizards to take advantage. They're coming off a overtime defeat at the hands of the Sacramento Kings. Both they and the Blazers will find balance in their starting lineups, but the winner could be the team whose bench exceeds expectation. Washington got 18 points from Drew Gooden in Sacramento, so that sort of pleasurable surprise would be helpful once again.

The remaining schedule

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Golden State Warriors, 10:30 p.m. ET

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