NBA Sunday: Blazers Vow To Fight For Playoffs
Most expected this season to be one of rebuilding for the Portland Trail Blazers before a single game was played. But the arrival of rookie guard Damian Lillard, a career year from forward Nicolas Batum and the presence of All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge has the team strongly positioned to make a run at the playoffs with just 13 games remaining in the regular season.
The Blazers were thought to be dead in the water back in February after enduring a seven game losing streak and finishing the month with a 3-9 mark. However, the month of March has been sweeter with the team posting a 7-5 record and wins in four of their last six outings. The club’s last two wins, huge road victories against playoff bound Atlanta and Chicago, were gut checks the squad passed with flying colors. As it stands today, the Blazers are tied for tenth in the Western Conference standings, but just two and a half games behind the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We’ve bounced back all year and this is another example,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said after Friday’s road victory over Atlanta. “This team never quits playing, whether during the game or during the course of the season.”
If the Blazers are to overcome their deficit and make the playoffs this season, their road won’t be an easy one. Out of the team’s remaining 13 contests, ten will be against playoff bound opposition. The remaining three contests, against Utah (twice) and Dallas, are versus team’s fighting for their own playoffs lives.
The Jazz are currently in ninth place, while the Mavericks are the team tied with the Blazers for tenth.
Nonetheless, Batum vows the Blazers aren’t leaving the playoff discussion without a long hard fight.
“We know we’re in the tenth spot right now but we still got a chance,” Batum told HOOPSWORLD. “As long as we’ve got a chance we’re going to keep fighting. The road wins were big for us for the playoff race. We know we still have a chance to get the eighth spot, so to get those wins on the road versus two good playoff teams like Chicago and Atlanta was good for us.”
The Western Conference playoff picture likely won’t be decided until the final week of the regular season. The Blazers’ last five games of the regular season will be a tall order to overcome, let alone a sub .500 unit.
The Blazers will host the Lakers and Oklahoma City before heading to Denver where the Nuggets have virtually been unbeatable this season, followed by a trip to Los Angeles to play the Clippers. Portland will then finish the season at home versus Golden State.
Over the past few games, Stotts has shortened the Blazers’ rotation. Only seven players logged action versus Atlanta and the trend is likely to continue. The question is can the Blazers’ legs hold up to make a final push. Batum, for instance, has logged an average of 39.3 minutes during the month of March.
“It works right now,” Batum said of Stotts decision to shorten the Blazers’ rotation. “I can’t complain about the playing time, that’s what I’m here to do – to play. I’m only 24 years old. I won’t get tired. In ten years when I’m 33 or 34, it might be a different story. But I’m good right now.”
The Blazers will finish up March with Oklahoma City (road), Brooklyn (home), Utah (home) and Golden State (road).
Knicks’ Jason Kidd Possibly Thinking Retirement?
New York Knicks guard Jason Kidd is in his nineteenth season in the league and turned 40 years of age on Saturday. The veteran signed a three-year deal with the Knicks last summer and his arrival has helped put the Knicks at the top of the Atlantic Division standings.
But Kidd remains non-committal about playing out the rest of his contract after this season ends. The veteran floor general won’t rule out the possibility of retirement at season’s end.
“We’re going to revisit [it],” Kidd said according to Zach Braziller of the New York Post. “We [would] love to make it to 42, but we have to be realistic. If the body and mind can’t compete at the same time, then I got to move to the side and watch these younger guys play. But I feel great.”
Kidd’s production has dropped off dramatically in recent season from his prime years, but his impact on the club has been noted and often credited by his teammates.
“J-Kidd knows the game just like a coach,” second year guard Iman Shumpert said. “To have him just in the locker room and to have him on the court, you can hear him always, even if he’s on the bench. He looks at different things on the court I wouldn’t yell out, I know a lot of guys around the league wouldn’t yell out. It helps out tremendously.”
Knicks head coach Mike Woodson believes Kidd could easily play out the rest of his contract even though there will be some guys who weren’t even born when Kidd came into the league getting drafted in June.
“He’s figured out how to train, and I said this [Friday], there are athletes that come along in a lifetime that play various sports, I call them freaks,” Woodson said. “They just seem to keep ticking. Nothing seems to bother them or faze them. I think he can play two more years, absolutely.”
HOOPSWORLD’s March Madness Coverage
The 2013 NCAA Tournament is underway. Make sure you’re up to speed on all of the top teams and players by checking out HOOPSWORLD’s March Madness content.
You can find all of the previews here. They have in-depth stats, players to watch and a poll so that you can vote on which team will win. Once it tips off, feel free to discuss the game in the comment section.
Are you an NBA fan who only watches the NCAA Tournament to get a look at this year’s draft prospects? Here is a look at 20 players to watch during March Madness.
HOOPSWORLD will continue to push out NCAA Tournament coverage over the next few weeks so be sure to check back regularly.