Hoping to keep their postseason aspirations alive with just a dozen games left in the season, the Portland Trail Blazers host the surging Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night. Facing a team that's already clinched its postseason spot, the Blazers can't afford to fall much further in the standings without booking their trip to the draft lottery.
Once seemingly in a solid position after hitting a season-high five games above .500 in early January, the Blazers have struggled badly with consistency in the second half of the season. One of the most shallow teams in the league, Portland has been unable to really string together winning streaks with a rotation that rarely goes more than eight deep.
Since beating the Miami Heat on Jan. 10, Portland has won just 13 of its past 35 games while failing to put together a win streak of longer than two games.
The Blazers have still shown flashes of the talent that's at least kept them on the fringes of contention, such as the back-to-back wins on the road over Chicago and Atlanta last week or the 30-point beatdown of San Antonio on March 8. But those wins have always been paired with weak losses to teams like New Orleans and Philadelphia.
Now the Blazers are 33-37 this season, 2.5 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth seed in the West. Two other teams -- Dallas and Utah -- separate Portland and L.A. in the standings, though, so the Blazers would need to hop over three teams in the standings to secure the final postseason spot.
Unfortunately, the folks at Blazers Edge, SB Nation's Blazers blog, don't sound totally optimistic: "The Nets are a more talented team than the Blazers, a deeper team, have more experience, and field a couple players who could cause Portland serious harm. That looks like a tough combination to beat."
For the Nets, the implications of this game aren't nearly as significant, but it's still an important game nevertheless. Just 2.5 games ahead of Chicago for the fourth seed in the East, Brooklyn can strengthen its hold on home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs with another win.
Brooklyn has won seven of its past 10 games, though only one of those wins came against a team above .500 (Atlanta).
The fifth game of a lengthy road trip for the Nets, the team has actually fared quite well away from Barclays Center so far. After back-to-back wins over Detroit and Dallas, Brooklyn dropped a game in L.A. to the Clippers, but rebounded to beat Phoenix last Sunday.
The Nets will be without star guard Joe Johnson on Wednesday, according to Nets Daily, SB Nation's Nets blog. This will be the sixth game that Johnson has missed in March.
Wednesday's game begins at 10:30 p.m. ET, broadcast on ESPN.