Trail Blazers prepare to start playoff push against Nets

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Portland Trail Blazers find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff picture in the NBA's Western Conference, but that doesn't mean they not optimistic they'll make it.

"We know we're a great team," center Jusuf Nurkic told reporters after the Trail Blazers' 114-109 victory over Oklahoma City on Thursday night at Moda Center. "We know we're going to be fine. We believe that. We're going to get that eight spot. I'm 100 percent on that."

Portland (26-35), which won for only the third time in 10 games, plays host to the team with the worst record in the league -- the Brooklyn Nets -- on Saturday night at Moda.

Point guard Damian Lillard fully expects to beat the Nets (10-50) and begin a playoff run. Portland has 22 games remaining -- and 10 of the last 12 are at home.

The Blazers are in a six-team battle for the eighth and final playoff berth in the West, trailing No. 8 Denver (28-33) by 2 1/2 games.

"We're not going to pack it in," vowed Lillard, who has averaged 32.0 points in the four games since the All-Star break. "That's not our character or who we are.

"We can beat out those teams and get that (No. 8) spot. We know that. All it's going to take is to put a good run together.

"Those teams are capable of losing games. We feel like if we win a lot of these (remaining regular-season) games, that's going to put a lot of pressure on those teams. We just have to worry about ourselves. We're going after it."

The 7-foot, 280-pound Nurkic has provided a lift since coming to Portland in the trade that sent center Mason Plumlee to Denver. In the win over the Thunder, Nurkic collected 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field to go with 12 rebounds and career highs in assists (six) and blocked shots (five).

"He gives us something we haven't had the last two years -- a guy who can get the ball on the block, pass from the block and really score on the block," Lillard said. "He has good skills and a good feel for the game.

"I guess you could call him a tough guy. He has something to say on every play. That's the kind of attitude you want to see in a big. You want an angry and competitive guy out there. His energy is definitely good for our team."

The Nets have struggled all season, but at least they won't be carrying a long losing streak into Portland. Brooklyn lost 112-97 at Utah on Friday night, but two nights earlier, the Nets prevailed 109-100 at Sacramento, snapping a skid that had stretched to 16 games.

"If there was ever a team that deserved (a win), it's these guys," Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said. "They've been working. They've been improving. I love that it was a team win. We played 12 guys. Everybody contributed. That's how we have to do it, as a unified group. We have to do it together."

"It's good to get that monkey off our back," said Nets guard Jeremy Lin, who has returned to action after missing six weeks with a hamstring injury. "It's good to see tangible results from all our work."
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