PORTLAND, Ore. — With the playoffs approaching, it is a good time for teams to begin to rounding into peak form.
The Portland Trail Blazers may be getting there, the latest evidence a 105-98 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night at the Moda Center.
It was the third victory in a row for the Trail Blazers, who solidified their hold on fifth place in the NBA’s Western Conference. The Blazers (48-27) are two games ahead of the sixth-place Golden State Warriors, who lost to the New York Knicks on Sunday night.
“I like where we’re headed,” said Portland guard Wesley Matthews, who contributed 15 points and five assists. “We’re not content by any means, but our focus is where it needs to be. We’re finally playing with that urgency we need to have.”
Forward LaMarcus Aldridge scored 28 points to lead five scorers in double figures for the Blazers. Aldridge played in his third consecutive game after missing the previous seven with a sore back.
“(Aldridge) coming back has brought us back to what we do and how we do it,” said Blazers guard Mo Williams, who scored 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting.
“He’s their horse,” said forward Zach Randolph, who led Memphis with 21 points. “He’s what makes them go. Any time you have LaMarcus, your best player, out there, it makes a difference.”
Center Marc Gasol added 20 points for the Grizzlies, who fell to 1-2 on a five-game road trip that continues Monday in Denver against the Nuggets. Memphis (43-30) is a half-game out of a playoff spot, trailing the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks, who are tied for seventh place in the West.
Portland shot 52 percent from the field and 88 percent from the foul line in the victory.
“(The Blazers) have a ton of playmakers, and they made us chase them all around the floor,” Memphis coach David Joerger said. “We were just kind of always behind tonight, and our hats are off to them.”
Aldridge scored 14 first-half points, and Williams and forward Thomas Robinson came off the bench to combine for 9-for-9 shooting to stake Portland to a 57-45 lead at the break. Williams (5-for-5) had 12 points and Robinson (4-for-4) eight before halftime. Portland shot 57.9 percent and outrebounded the Grizzlies 25-16 through the break.
Guard Damian Lillard’s 3-pointer hiked Portland’s edge to 68-51 four minutes into the third quarter. The Blazers jacked it to 78-60 before the Grizzlies rallied to close to within 80-68. Portland took an 86-70 edge into the fourth quarter.
When the Blazers scored the first five points of the final period, it seemed over. The Grizzlies didn’t die, though, drawing to within 101-91 with 3:03 to play. Aldridge scored on a post-up to make it 103-91, but Randolph responded with a hook and forward James Johnson sank a 3-pointer that cut the margin to 103-96 with 1:15 left.
Gasol’s basket with six seconds to play cut Memphis’ deficit to five, but Lillard sank two free throws to seal the outcome.
“They just came out harder than us,” Randolph said. “They wanted it more from the start.”
Portland coach Terry Stotts said, “I like how we’re playing. I liked our mindset. I liked our focus from beginning to end. Outside of a couple of loose possessions, we were locked in at both ends of the court.”
NOTES: Portland G Wesley Matthews went 5-for-5 at the free-throw line, running his streak of consecutive makes to 36. … Blazers F LaMarcus Aldridge hit 10 of 20 attempts from the field, shooting 50 percent or better in a complete game for the first time since Feb. 12. … Portland G Damian Lillard scored all 13 of his points in the second half. … The loss prevented Memphis from sweeping the season series with Portland after the Grizzlies claimed double-digit victories in the teams’ first two meetings. … The Blazers’ 105 points were the most scored against the Grizzlies in March. … Portland coach Terry Stotts said C Marc Gasol was the key to Memphis’ resurgence after the Grizzlies started the season 15-19. “When he wasn’t healthy, they weren’t as good defensively,” Stotts said. “He talks, he’s smart, he makes everybody better at the defensive end. He’s important at the other end, too. He makes perimeter shots, but his passing and directing of the offense are the biggest difference he makes. He quarterbacks that offense.” … The Blazers play the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Tuesday.
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