Soaring Trail Blazers square off against Hawks

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ATLANTA — Portland is one of eight Atlanta opponents in the
next nine games that has a losing record, but the Hawks
certainly won’t be taking the Trail Blazers lightly Saturday
night.

As much as Atlanta would like to have home court in the first
round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Portland has more at
stake.

The Trail Blazers, coming off a big 110-106 victory at San
Antonio on Wednesday, are trying to catch Denver for the final
playoff spot in the Western Conference and trail the Nuggets by
2 1/2 games with 15 to play.

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Portland (30-37) is 6-2 in March and 2-1 on their five-game
road trip that ends Sunday in Miami.

The Trail Blazers’ high-scoring backcourt of Damian Lillard and
CJ McCollum combined for 62 points against the Spurs, but
almost as important were the 16 points and nine rebounds from
center Jusuf Nurkic.

Portland is 7-4 with Nurkic, acquired from Denver in exchange
for Mason Plumlee, in the starting lineup.

“That had to be probably our best win of the year to beat a
team like San Antonio on the road,” Trail Blazers coach Terry
Stotts said after his team bounced back against the Spurs
following a lopsided loss at New Orleans the previous night.
“Not only that, but how we won. I thought it was one of our
better games as far as staying focused throughout the game.”

After shooting 30 percent from the field against the Pelicans,
Portland shot 48 percent against the Spurs.

“We talked about it, because it’s something you can’t just say,
‘Aw, we got beat,'” said Lillard, who scored 36 points against
the Spurs. “You’ve got to address the things that we didn’t do
well and the things we’ve got to do better if we want to have
this run we’re trying to put together. But that was it. We
didn’t have a big intervention, nothing like that.”

The Hawks (37-31) have won five straight against the Trail
Blazers, but the victory this season at Portland came in
overtime.

Atlanta, which had tied it on Paul Millsap’s buzzer-beating
basket, won 109-104 on Feb. 13 by scoring the final 12 points
of the extra period.

Millsap scored 21 points, while Tim Hardaway Jr. had 25 and
Dennis Schroder scored 22 for the Hawks.

McCollum had 25 points for the Trail Blazers and Lillard scored
21 in the earlier meeting.

The loss by Portland came the day after the trade of Plumlee
for Nurkic in a swap of centers and the Trail Blazers have been
on an upward surge since.

The Hawks, meanwhile, continue to take a step back for every
step forward in the attempt to catch Toronto for the fourth
spot in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta lost 103-91 at home to Memphis on Wednesday after
beating the Grizzlies by 17 points on the road five days
earlier.

“We should have come out more aggressive knowing that they were
going to come out more aggressive,” said Millsap, who was held
to 10 points. “We just didn’t do that.”

The Hawks scored 13 points in the third quarter while shooting
17.6 percent overall and missing all seven on their 3-point
attempts.

Schroder was 4 of 16 overall from the floor and 1 of 6 from
behind the arc while scoring 10 points.

“Not a pretty game for us. It just didn’t feel like we could
get anything done, particularly the end of the second quarter
and going into the third quarter,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer
said. “Just kind of in mud.”

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