Trail Blazers-Grizzlies Preview
By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- Given their recent dominance at home, the Memphis Grizzlies know how valuable fourth place in the Western Conference would be.
A matchup with the slumping Portland Trail Blazers could help them inch closer to securing that spot.
Seeking a ninth consecutive win at FedExForum, Memphis squares off against a Portland team looking to snap its longest losing streak of the season Saturday night.
Winners of 11 of 14 overall, the Grizzlies (38-25) locked up no worse than the fifth seed Friday, concluding their road schedule with a 85-80 victory over Charlotte. Mike Conley posted team highs of 20 points and seven assists while Zach Randolph scored 14 off the bench for Memphis, which moved within a game of the Los Angeles Clippers, current owners of the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"This was one we needed," Conley said. "This was a big win for us. We locked up the fifth spot and now we have a shot at the fourth seed, so we needed this win."
While the Clippers' remaining schedule includes visits to Atlanta and New York, the Grizzlies could have a leg up with three in a row at home. Memphis, which hosts Cleveland and Orlando following this contest, hasn't lost at home in more a month, winning eight in a row while limiting opponents to an average of 91.0 points.
Offensively, the Grizzlies are averaging 103.3 points on 49.8 percent shooting over their last three home games. They haven't won nine straight on their own floor since a franchise-best 11-game run Dec. 18-Jan. 25, 2010.
Two nights after being officially eliminated from postseason contention with a 125-107 loss at Phoenix, Portland (28-35) suffered its fourth straight defeat Wednesday, falling 112-91 in its home finale to Utah.
"I'll continue to say it. I believe it – we do have the best fans in the world," interim coach Kaleb Canales told the Blazers' official website. "It's been a challenging season for us but we appreciate what they mean to us."
Despite being assured of their first losing record since going 32-50 in 2006-07, the Blazers seem upbeat as they open a season-ending three-game road trip that also includes visits to San Antonio and Utah.
"To be honest with you, I'm really excited, because this is being thrown into the fire for our guys because we're playing three teams that are battling for playoff positions," Canales added. "It's an exciting time for us."
The Blazers, who last week shut down LaMarcus Aldridge for the rest of the season due to a right hip injury, will also be without Joel Przybilla (bronchitis) and Raymond Felton (personal reasons) in this one.
Portland had won eight straight at Memphis before falling 86-73 in its last visit Dec. 13, 2010. The Blazers have taken three straight overall matchups in this series - all at the Rose Garden.
Guard Lester Hudson was inactive Friday night after signing with the Grizzlies earlier in the day. His status for this game is unknown.
Updated April 20, 2012