DALLAS -- With the Trail Blazers, carrying a two-game losing streak and fighting for a playoff spot with at least four other teams, heading out for a rematch with the Dallas Mavericks tonight it would be easy to look at this game and call it a must win. A game Portland cannot afford to lose.
Well, given the state of the other teams fighting for that No. 8 playoff berth in the Western Conference, I don't think that's the case. There are still 30 Portland games left and it doesn't appear any team is going to jump out and take charge of this race. It's very likely going to come down to the final week of the season.
Now don't get me wrong, the Trail Blazers need every win they can get -- and every loss they can deliver to the teams they're competing against. But I'm not going to count them out of the playoffs after their 53rd game of the season.
The Mavericks, who hung a 108-104 defeat on Portland in Moda Center Friday, come into tonight's game after a loss last night in Denver, which jumped out to a 22-point halftime lead and cruised to an easy win behind Will Barton's 31 points. The Nuggets took the game inside against Dallas and got 50 points in the paint and held the Mavs to 30 percent shooting from three-point range -- a big key to beating Dallas, which is thriving on three-point shots. Yogi Ferrell, who tortured the Trail Blazers last Friday with 32 points, had only 15 vs. Denver.
With the win, Denver stayed two games ahead of Portland in the loss column. Dallas dropped a game behind the Trail Blazers. Sacramento and New Orleans are also within striking distance but none of these teams seems poised to make a big-time run. They are all riding the same roller coaster the Trail Blazers have been on all season.
But the Trail Blazer schedule gets easier down the stretch of the season, which could be a key to this whole thing.
And, of course, Portland needs to prove it can translate solid play into victories. The Trail Blazers did a reasonable job of controlling Oklahoma City Sunday afternoon but couldn't close the deal in the fourth quarter. That's been a problem this season.
Make no mistake -- tonight is a big game for Portland. There's a need to keep Dallas from capturing the season series, which stands right now with the Mavericks holding a 2-1 edge. But the road team has won all three games so far.
The Trail Blazers need this game -- at this point they need every game. They have little margin for error. But it's still too early to call it a must win -- or even to count them out of the playoffs if they lose.