After moving back into the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Utah Jazz have an opportunity to deliver another big blow to the Portland Trail Blazers' fading playoff hopes.
The Jazz will try for their season-best fifth straight victory and beat the reeling Blazers for the second time in three days on Monday night.
Utah's postseason chances appeared slim after a 113-108 loss to Dallas on March 24 to fall two games behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference. The Jazz, however, have responded with four straight victories to regain the edge over the injury-plagued Lakers following a 116-107 win over Brooklyn on Saturday.
While they have the same record, Utah (38-36) owns the tiebreaker for the final playoff spot in the West.
"When we were struggling earlier, I had a feeling that we would get out of it because the guys continued to work, they stayed together, they focused hard," coach Tyrone Corbin told the team's official website.
Now Corbin's club seeks its longest winning streak since closing out last season with five in a row.
Utah has already beaten Portland during this run, rallying late for a 105-95 road win on Friday. The Blazers (33-40) have been headed the other direction since trailing the eighth-place Lakers by just 2 1/2 games on March 22.
Portland lost its fourth straight on Saturday, 125-98 at Golden State, to drop 4 1/2 games back of the eighth spot with just nine remaining.
It hasn't helped that LaMarcus Aldridge, the team's leading scorer at 21.0 points per game, has missed the last two games because of a sprained ankle. His status remains uncertain.
Rookie Meyers Leonard helped to fill the void with season highs of 22 points and 10 rebounds against the Warriors.
It doesn't figure to get any easier for the Blazers in Salt Lake City, where they've dropped three in a row and 19 of 23 dating back to the 2001-02 season.
The Jazz are also seeking their seventh win in eight meetings overall and three of four in this season series.
Mo Williams scored a game-high 28 to key Utah's win on Friday and has 48 on 16-of-29 shooting in his last two games.
Center Al Jefferson has also given the club a boost lately, averaging 22.3 points on 54.1 percent shooting over his last three games. He's also scored 20 in each of the two wins against the Blazers.
While Paul Millsap had just nine points on 2-of-10 shooting on Saturday, he's scored a team-best 19.3 per game while shooting 54.8 percent in this season series.
The Jazz, who have scored 107.8 per game - 9.4 above their season average - during their winning streak, will be taking on a Portland team that has allowed 111.0 per game and lost by an average of 18.7 points over its current skid.
"We have to make it more of a priority in these last nine games to play more of a solid game especially on defense," Blazers coach Terry Stotts told the team's official website.
Point guard Damian Lillard has done some damage in this series, averaging a team-high 24.3 points.
Two of J.J. Hickson's 40 double-doubles have come against the Jazz, and he's totaled 38 points on 14-of-22 shooting and 25 rebounds in the last two meetings.
Portland, though, has averaged just 86.7 points while shooting 18 for 65 (27.7 percent) from 3-point range during its three-game slide in Salt Lake City.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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