Being at home and playing inferior competition have helped push the Portland Trail Blazers back in the right direction.
Now the question is whether they can keep it going without those advantages.
The Trail Blazers haven't done well lately in road games or against teams with winning records, and they'll be facing plenty of both during a stretch that begins Friday night against the Dallas Mavericks.
This matchup kicks off the first of two five-game road trips this month for Portland (42-19), which has played seven of eight at home since the All-Star break. The first four opponents on this trek are all above .500 - Dallas (36-26), Houston, Memphis and San Antonio - before it ends next Friday in New Orleans.
"It's going to be a really tough road trip for us," forward LaMarcus Aldridge said after Wednesday's 102-78 win over Atlanta. "But if we go out and take care of business and keep playing defense like we did tonight, anything is possible."
The Blazers allowed season lows for points and field-goal percentage (33.0) as defense continued to key their resurgence following a 3-7 slump. They've won six of seven, giving up averages 39.7 percent shooting and 89.3 points - 13.3 below their season mark.
However, none of those opponents entered with a winning record, and Portland has lost eight of nine against teams that do. That funk along with the Blazers' woes on the road, where they've dropped six of nine, date back to a 127-111 win in Dallas on Jan. 18.
Aldridge had 30 points and 12 rebounds that night, but he hasn't been the same after missing the first five games following the break due to a groin injury. The All-Star has averaged 15.7 points and 6.7 boards in three games since returning and was a season-worst 1 for 13 from the field Wednesday.
"My timing is just off," Aldridge said. "Since coming back, I haven't felt like my timing has been great."
The Mavericks also have fallen into a slump, dropping a season-high three straight after winning 10 of 12. They've given up more than 110 points on the road in their last two games, including a 115-110 defeat in Denver on Wednesday.
Now they face four of the league's top seven teams record-wise in their next five games. Following Sunday's visit from Indiana, Dallas has a three-game trip that begins against Golden State and ends against Oklahoma City.
"It's not going to get easier," forward Brandan Wright said. "We just have to come out and play hard. In these home games we have two tough opponents. We just have to keep trucking and we'll see what happens. We have to lift the level up."
The Mavs are 0-6 against the West's top five teams since beating Houston on Dec. 23. They've won eight of 12 at home, but none of those victories came against a team with a winning record.
The Blazers are 6-9 on the road since Dec. 18 - the worst of any team with a record over .500 - while allowing an average of 108.5 points.
Nicolas Batum has helped pick up the slack for Aldridge's struggles by grabbing at least 15 rebounds in three consecutive games. Dallas hasn't had a player grab more than 10 in five straight and has been outrebounded in each.
Dirk Nowitzki had 27 points Wednesday, his most since the start of February, and scored 30 in a 108-106 win at Portland on Dec. 7. He was held to 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting in the home loss to the Blazers.
The Associated Press News Service
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