Though the Portland Trail Blazers are unlikely to be part of the playoff race down the stretch, they might be playing as if they are still in it.
Portland will face the Los Angeles Clippers in the first game of a home-and-home series on Friday at the Rose Garden.
The Blazers (35-33) are 7 1/2 games behind Golden State for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and five back of ninth-place Denver with 14 games to play. They've struggled to find any consistency over the last two months, and have alternated wins and losses over the last six games.
Center Channing Frye said Portland still needs to play hard through the final weeks because at this time next season -- hopefully with injured top overall pick Greg Oden back playing -- the team expects to be fighting for playoff position.
"It's important for us not only to do this for this year, but for next year," Frye said. "We need to prepare our bodies and minds. Let's say next year we're in a playoff race -- and we will be -- we need to be mentally prepared. We should know what it feels like, and continue to push."
Portland, which has not been to the postseason since 2002-03, is coming off a 111-98 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 31 points -- his seventh consecutive game with at least 20 -- but Blazers leading scorer Brandon Roy was held to six points on 3-of-14 shooting.
"When a team comes in and takes a player like Brandon out of a game, you have to have players to make shots," coach Nate McMillan said. "And tonight we didn't have players to make shots to offset the way they played Roy."
Roy had averaged 22.9 points in his previous nine games for Portland, which was handed its most lopsided home loss of the season.
The Clippers (21-46) have long been looking ahead to next season. A loser of five straight and 13 of 15, Los Angeles is in 12th place in the West but stands 21 games behind the eighth-place Warriors.
"We want to finish strong because going into next year we will get players back," Clippers rookie Al Thornton said. "We know we can't get into the playoffs, but we want to build and go into next season strong."