Hawks try to derail surging Trail Blazers
The Atlanta Hawks will try to complicate the playoff prospects of another team on Thursday when the Portland Trail Blazers come to town for their only visit of the season.
The Hawks have won three straight, including Tuesday's 130-120 win at New Orleans. The two previous wins came against Utah, which increased the difficult of the Jazz earning a first-round homecourt advantage in the Western Conference, and Philadelphia, which damaged the Sixers' odds of moving up to second place in the Eastern Conference.
Portland is 47-27 after Wednesday's 118-98 win at Chicago. The Trail Blazers are in third place, 3 1/2 games behind Denver, but only one-half game ahead of Houston and 2 1/2 games ahead of Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers. The stop in Atlanta is the second leg of a four-game road trip.
Portland is playing well, however, and brings a five-game winning streak into the season finale against Atlanta. The Trail Blazers defeated the Hawks 120-111 on Jan. 26 in Portland.
But the Trail Blazers will be without Jusuf Nurkic, who sustained a season-ending leg injury in a double-overtime win against Brooklyn on Monday. The center's left leg snapped when he came down with a rebound he underwent surgery to repair the compound fracture. Nurkic was averaging 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds.
The Trail Blazers reached out to their injured teammate through a video phone call before they went on the court to beat the Bulls.
"It was good to let him know we were thinking about him before we headed out," guard Seth Curry said. "That pregame huddle was a good moment for everybody."
Curry has stepped up since moving into the lineup to replace CJ McCollum. In the five games since McCollum went down with a knee injury, Curry is averaging 17.4 points. His season average is 7.4 points. He scored a season-high 20 points against Chicago on Thursday.
The Trail Blazers plan to use veteran Enes Kanter at center. He had 13 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes against Chicago. They will also lean more on Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard, who played Wednesday for the first time since March 9.
"The next two weeks, we're going to look at different combinations," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "Zach played a little five out there by himself, that was good to see. I was hoping to get Skal (Labissiere) in there a little earlier. We'll keep looking at different combinations."
Atlanta (27-48) has won five of its last eight games and much of the credit goes to rookie point guard Trae Young, who is making a push for NBA Rookie of the Year honors. Young had 33 points and 12 assists for his 27th double-double on Tuesday. Over the last four games he is averaging 27.3 points and 11.5 assists.
"Trae is unbelievable with the basketball," Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce said. "We've played 75 games together now and our spacing is great. When we know where our outlets are, then it's easy to make the right play. He's obviously very efficient, but it's a testament to the guys being in the right spots all the time."
Young, who averages 18.9 points and 7.9 assists, was named the Eastern Conference's Player of the Week. He's enjoying the late-season surge.
"I'm feeling good and my teammates honestly make me look good, too," he said. "I'm just having fun. That's the main thing. The ball is moving, shots are falling and it's fun."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 28, 2019