Trail Blazers battle Lakers while looking to clinch No. 4 seed
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The visiting Portland Trail Blazers can clinch home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.
The Trail Blazers enter Tuesday with a two-game lead over the Utah Jazz for fourth place in the Western Conference with two games left for each team.
Portland can also clinch the No. 4 seed if the Jazz lose to the visiting Denver Nuggets in a matchup set to begin about 90 minutes before tip-off in Los Angeles.
The Lakers aided Portland's chances of earning home-court advantage in the first round by defeating the visiting Jazz 113-109 on Sunday night.
The Trail Blazers realize home-court advantage in the first round is just a small step in their overall goal. Portland finished third in the West last season, then got swept by the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round.
"A lot of teams want (home-court advantage) because if every team wins every game on their home floor, we'll win that series," Portland point guard Damian Lillard told reporters after a 115-108 win against the Nuggets on Sunday night. "What we learned last year is that doesn't guarantee you're going to win the games at home, but that doesn't mean you don't fight for that position."
The Trail Blazers welcomed back shooting guard CJ McCollum on Sunday. He had missed the previous 10 games with a sprained left knee. McCollum is second on the team in scoring at 21.1 points a game.
McCollum was limited to 25 minutes against the Nuggets, finishing with nine points, six rebounds and six assists.
"I felt like I was moving pretty well," he said. "I felt like my conditioning was in pretty good shape."
The Trail Blazers will be up against a Los Angeles team that has shut down most of its top players for the rest of the season.
LeBron James (groin) and Kyle Kuzma (foot), the top two scorers for the Lakers, have each missed the past five games, third-leading scorer Brandon Ingram (arm) has been out since March 2, and starting point guard Lonzo Ball (ankle) has been sidelined since mid-January.
The shortage of healthy bodies in Los Angeles has opened the door for players like Alex Caruso, Jemerrio Jones and Johnathan Williams to get long looks after spending most of the season in the G League.
Caruso is averaging 19.4 points and seven assists in the past five games, Williams is averaging 14.3 points and 8.7 rebounds in the past three and Jones became the first Los Angeles player in team history on Sunday to grab at least 16 rebounds in his first NBA start.
"It's what you build toward," Lakers coach Luke Walton told reporters after the win against Utah. "You try to get that chemistry. It's a little easier to get it when you're just playing with a couple of guys up from the G League who are just happy to be there."
Portland could still be without a key player as small forward Maurice Harkless left the Denver game with left hip tightness and did not return. He was coming off his best month of the season, averaging 9.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in March.
--Field Level Media
Updated April 8, 2019