The Portland Trail Blazers look to take another step toward chasing down a playoff spot when they face the Boston Celtics on Sunday near Orlando.
Ninth-place Portland (30-37) resides 2.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies (32-34) in the battle for the last available playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Trail Blazers look to ride the momentum of Friday’s 140-135 overtime victory against Memphis into their encounter with Boston (43-22).
The Blazers are thrilled with the comeback of 7-foot center Jusuf Nurkic, who played his first official game since March 25, 2019. He recorded 18 points, nine rebounds, a career-high-tying six blocks and five assists in 33 minutes as a starter.
Starting power forward Zach Collins returned after being out since late October due to an injured left shoulder. He contributed nine rebounds, seven points and three assists in 37 minutes.
Portland received dominant games from its star guards. Damian Lillard had 29 points, nine assists and five rebounds in 45 minutes and C.J. McCollum had 33 points, six assists and three rebounds in 46 minutes. Combined, they shot 24-for-43 from the floor in a must-win game, and their skill could be trouble for the Celtics.
“This is playoff basketball from us,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of this push for the postseason. “We have that pressure on us. You can’t shy away from it when you are in our position.”
Meanwhile, the Celtics are looking to slowly get guard Kemba Walker back into the flow. Walker, who had been out due to an injury to his left knee, played nine minutes in an exhibition scrimmage last week and 19 on Friday in a 119-112 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Walker scored 16 points against Milwaukee. However, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Walker will still be on a minutes restriction against Portland.
“I would love to be like, ‘I don’t care about (a) minutes restriction.’ But I can’t,” Walker said. “I want to take steps forward, but I have to be smart about things. I want to be there for my teammates when we get to the playoffs.
“Hopefully, by then, the restrictions will be completely off.”
Said Stevens: “This is all about strengthening his knee for the playoffs.”
Another issue for Boston is the play of standout forward Jayson Tatum, who was named a 2020 All-Star and the Eastern Conference’s Player of the Month in February.
On Friday, however, Tatum shot just 2-of-18 from the floor, including 0-for-4 on 3-pointers.
The good news for the Celtics — who fell behind 17-2 to the Bucks on Friday — is that guard Marcus Smart continues to provide energy off the bench. He had 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting versus Milwaukee.
–Field Level Media