PORTLAND Mark Barron Jersey , Ore. â€" The No. 3 playoff seed in the Western Conference is on the line Wednesday night at Moda Center when the Portland Trail Blazers play host to the Utah Jazz is what will have all the feel of a playoff game.
Portland and Utah come into the final regular-season game with a 48-33 record, but the teams have taken decidedly different routes to get there.
The Trail Blazers enjoyed a 13-game win streak in late February and early March but enter Wednesdayâ€™s contest coming off a four-game losing streak. Utah, meanwhile, joins the Houston Rockets as the hottest teams in the NBA. Since Jan. 24, when they were 19-28, the Jazz are 29-5 and have won six straight coming into the showdown at Portland.
The Jazz arenâ€™t just winning games, theyâ€™re beating opponents up. In their recent stretch of victories, theyâ€™ve defeated Minnesota 121-97, trounced the L.A. Clippers 117-95 and topped the L.A. Lakers 112-97. On Tuesday, Utah annihilated Golden State 119-79 at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
â€śMore than anything, Iâ€™m just really proud of our guys,â€ť Utah coach Quin Snyder told reporters. â€śWhat these guys did collectively to get better. â€¦ I donâ€™t want to diminish what this group has accomplished.â€ť
But the Jazz know there is more to accomplish.
â€śThe next thing is getting that No. 3 spot and homecourt advantage (in the first round of the playoffs),â€ť Utah rookie guard Donovan Mitchell said. â€śThatâ€™s our big goal now.â€ť
Utah will be playing the second of back-to-back games at Moda Center, but Snyder used no player more than 28 minutes in the rout of the defending champion Warriors.
More than a week ago Brian Dawkins Jersey , Portland was one victory away from locking down homecourt advantage. That win never came with the Blazers losing in succession to Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Denver on a highly discouraging road trip. Now, it comes down to one more chance to clinch the No. 3 spot in the West.
Portlandâ€™s offense has been struggling in recent games, but never more so than Monday night at Denver, when the Blazers shot 33 percent from the field, including 7 for 33 from 3-point range. Was it a matter of just missing good shots?
â€śWe can shoot the ball,â€ť Portland point guard Damian Lillard said after the Denver game. â€śIf we were shooting bad because we were taking bad shots, then that would be a problem. But we are getting good looks. â€¦ We shoot the ball. Thatâ€™s what our team does. Itâ€™s not a concern. It always comes back.â€ť
Portland coach Terry Stotts said he was encouraged by the defense the Blazers played at Denver, holding the Nuggets to 37.3 percent shooting. Another good sign: The performance of center Jusuf Nurkic, who scored 20 points and collected 19 rebounds â€" including a career-high eight off the offensive glass â€" against his old team. Nurkicâ€™s matchup with Utahâ€™s Rudy Gobert will be a key one Wednesday night.
The Blazers will be helped by the return of power forward Ed Davis, who missed four games with a sprained ankle. The veteran reserve, who provides rebounding, defense and energy off the Portland bench Dominique Easley Jersey , came back to play 15 minutes against the Nuggets and should be closer to 100 percent against the Jazz.
Portlandâ€™s starting small forward, Moe Harkless, remains out after undergoing knee surgery March 27. He is expected to be back for the playoffs.
After the Capitals scored early, the Penguins scored often to stun their rivals with yet another comeback. Patric Hornqvist, Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel scored in a 4:49 span to help Pittsburgh erase a two-goal deficit in the third period and the Penguins beat Washington 3-2 on Thursday night in Game 1 of the second-round series.
Showing no panic from allowing a goal to Evgeny Kuznetsov 17 seconds into the game and another to Alex Ovechkin 28 seconds into the third period, the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions took another series lead in typical Penguins fashion.
Playing without injured forwards Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin, Pittsburgh naturally fed off Crosby, who had a goal and an assist.
â€ťRight from Sid, he led the way for us and itâ€™s right down the lineup,â€ť said Guentzel, who had a goal and two assists and leads the playoffs with 16 points. â€ťYou canâ€™t get down. Thereâ€™s going to be highs and lows throughout the whole series. Youâ€™ve got to stick with it to the end and we were happy to get three and end up winning the game.â€ť
Matt Murray stopped 32 of 34 shots, keeping the Penguins in the game and maintaining the lead late with a sprawling stick save on Brett Connolly with 2:30 left. Unsure of what would happen at the other end of the rink with Braden Holtby dialed in, Murray could only keep the puck out as much as possible after allowing the early-period goals to Kuznetsov and Ovechkin.
Murray denied Michal Kempny from point-blank range and kept the puck out from a hard-charging Devante Smith-Pelly early and missed no opportunity to give the Penguins the impressive stop when they needed it.
â€ťI thought he was locked in all night long,â€ť coach Mike Sullivan said. â€ťHe made some big saves for us Tyrann Mathieu Jersey , especially when they were pressing down the stretch there. â€¦ When you get those types of saves, itâ€™s easy to play with some confidence in front of him.â€ť
Murray couldnâ€™t predict a furious comeback, but he wasnâ€™t shocked, either. Not after Pittsburgh has won nine consecutive playoff series dating to 2016, including two against these Capitals.
â€ťThereâ€™s going to be good things that happen out there and thereâ€™s going to be bad things that happen out there,â€ť Murray said. â€ťItâ€™s about how you respond. We did a good job of that.â€ť
The Capitals gave the Penguins a couple of solid punches in the series opener but didnâ€™t respond well when some bounces went against them early in the third. A deflection goal by Hornqvist, a puck that went off Ovechkinâ€™s stick to Crosby and then a redirection by Guentzel took the air out of the building and ruined a strong start by Holtby.
â€ťObviously, some things weâ€™d like to work on,â€ť said Holtby, who stopped all 17 shots through two periods before allowing three on eight in the third. â€ťSame time, their goals they scored, they were kind of strange plays, especially the last one. It was one of those thatâ€™s just a weird bounce.â€ť
Washington blew a two-goal lead for the fourth time in seven games in these playoffs, but players felt they handled this better than situations in the first round against Columbus.
â€ťThose three shifts Marcus Peters Jersey , they score,â€ť said Kuznetsov, whose goal was the second-fastest in Capitals playoff history. â€ťI feel like they got momentum, and then they score again and again.â€ť
As even as the play was, a handful of mistakes were enough to put the Penguins up going into Game 2 Sunday afternoon. Sullivan already sees opportunities to cut down on chances against, and his players think they can be better as the series goes on.
â€ťItâ€™s one game, we did some good things,â€ť Crosby said. â€ťI think in any playoff series, itâ€™s just about getting better with every game.â€ť
NOTES: The Capitals have killed 18 consecutive penalties dating to Game 2 against Columbus. .., Malkin skated Thursday morning with teammates, while Hagelin did not make the trip. Malkin could be an option for Game 2 if his apparent leg injury has healed enough.