The Portland Trail Blazers look to move closer toward clinching a top-six position in the Western Conference when they host the woeful Houston Rockets on Monday night.
Portland has won three straight games and seven of its last eight and looks to improve its playoff stock against a Houston team that has dropped five straight contests and 42 of its last 47.
The Trail Blazers (39-29) reside in sixth place in the West as they battle the fifth-place Dallas Mavericks and seventh-place Los Angeles Lakers. A top-six finish allows a team to avoid the NBA’s new play-in tournament featuring seeds 7 through 10.
Portland’s win over the Lakers on Friday night gave it the tiebreaker edge over Los Angeles.
The Trail Blazers’ run of success follows a stretch in which they lost five straight games and 10 of 13.
“I feel like every team has to go through that at some point of the season, to really find ourselves and know what you have to do,” Portland swingman Norman Powell said after Saturday’s 124-102 home rout of the San Antonio Spurs. “I think after that, we’ve been able to put together multiple games of high-level basketball, top to bottom.”
Star guard Damian Lillard has been superb and has scored at least 30 points in four straight games and five of the past six.
Lillard is averaging 31.8 points during the span after having 30 against the Spurs. He has knocked down 32 of 61 3-point attempts (52.5 percent) and averaged nine assists during the stretch.
Six of Portland’s wins during the eighth-game span have been by double digits. That isn’t overly surprising to coach Terry Stotts, who is looking for his 400th win with the franchise on Monday.
“I think we’ve been playing good basketball for a while, (Saturday) was just another one,” Stotts said after the rout of San Antonio. “I didn’t think we got loose with the game even though we had a lead.”
Houston has been dealing with an injury siege and only had the minimum eight available players for each of its last two games.
It is possible that the Rockets will have 10 players against Portland, depending on how ankle injuries to center Christian Wood and forward Kelly Olynyk progress. Houston listed both players as questionable on Sunday night’s injury report.
Wood has missed the past three games, while Olynyk sat out Saturday’s 124-116 loss to the Utah Jazz.
Guard Kevin Porter Jr. (ankle) will miss his third straight game and that means more playing time for journeyman guard Khyri Thomas.
To help the Rockets’ situation, the NBA granted the team a hardship extension and it was used to sign Thomas to a 10-day contract.
Thomas took advantage by scoring 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting in 23 minutes during Friday’s 141-133 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks and he followed up with 27 points and five steals against the Jazz on his 25th birthday.
That’s solid production from a player who had been idle since the G League season ended two months ago.
“A 10-day or the whole year, I’m going to take the opportunity and run with it,” Thomas told reporters. “Me having this opportunity means a lot to me. I’m not trying to go out here and be Michael Jordan or anything. I’m trying to fit in with the rest of the guys.”
Thomas played at Creighton and was a second-round pick (No. 38 overall) in the 2018 draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and sent to the Detroit Pistons in a draft-night trade. He averaged 2.3 points in 34 games for Detroit over two seasons.
Carmelo Anthony (ankle) is questionable for the Trail Blazers.
Houston and Portland split two games earlier this season.
–Field Level Media