GAME PREVIEW (via STATS LLC)
The Portland Trail Blazers are struggling defensively during their worst stretch of the season, and LaMarcus Aldridge's absence isn't helping matters.
Luckily for them, the Boston Celtics' offense doesn't appear too threatening ahead of Thursday night's meeting in Portland.
The Trail Blazers (31-12) have dropped four of five while giving up 100-plus in each defeat after letting opponents reach the century mark four times in the previous 20 games. They've also let their last five opponents shoot 37.7 percent from 3-point range after previously limiting teams to 28.7 percent.
Aldridge, the team's leader with 23.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, didn't play in Wednesday's 118-113 loss at Phoenix due to a left thumb injury suffered in Monday's 98-94 win over Sacramento. X-rays were negative, though coach Terry Stotts did not say when he expects Aldridge to return.
"I'm not commenting on anything other than he has an MRI (Thursday)," Stotts said.
The Trail Blazers let Phoenix shoot 51.1 percent while falling to 3-2 without Aldridge, and the 24 fast-break points allowed were their second-most.
Portland squandered a five-point lead with 2:22 remaining. It had trailed by as many as 25 in the second quarter after giving up a season-worst 40 first-quarter points.
"I don't think we should be satisfied with a moral victory," said Damian Lillard, who scored 22 but was 6 of 22 from the floor and committed five turnovers. "We didn't deserve to win the game because of how it went. You want to win, you expect to win but not enough things went right."
As disappointing as Portland's defense has been lately, its last four losses have come against teams currently in playoff position. The Trail Blazers, who are 19-4 at home, figure to bounce back against Boston (13-26). Their 20-2 record against sub-.500 teams trails only Golden State (19-1), and they're an NBA-best 7-2 on the second night of back-to-backs.
Portland won its fourth straight in the series in a 94-88 victory at Boston on Nov. 23, holding the Celtics to 38.9 percent shooting. The Trail Blazers haven't won five straight meetings since Feb. 20, 1994-Jan. 3, 1996.
Boston has averaged 98.6 points in going 4-12 since trading Rajon Rondo after previously averaging 104.5 points. The Celtics have shot 42.1 percent over their last eight.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH (via Chris Forsberg)
• Best chance of the week? This is about as well-rested as the Celtics will get on this trip. Boston has limited its activity since Monday's matinee loss to the Clippers, knowing they're about to play the league's most daunting 4-in-5 of the season -- at least in terms of miles traveled. The Celtics hope to catch a Blazers team that is reeling having lost four of their last five and coming off a loss in Phoenix on Wednesday. The rest of the trip is a grind, even if three of the next four opponents are not playoff-caliber teams (that visit to league-leading Golden State makes up for that).
• Starting strong: The Celtics have been slow out of the gates in recent games, including digging a 23-point hole in Los Angeles on Monday. No dancing around it: Boston needs more from its starters out of the gates. There's no reason the Celtics shouldn't hit first on Thursday considering how much more rested it is than Portland (whether they can sustain that early energy is another question).
• Putting points on the board: The Blazers rank 5th in the league in defensive rating, limit their turnovers (9th in turnover percentage), and take care of the defensive glass (13th in defensive rebound rate). Translation: Nothing comes easy. Boston has to take care of the basketball, work every possession, and pounce when those rare opportunities arise to put easy points on the scoreboard.