NBA Rundown: Portland Trail Blazers Move to 8th in the West, Phoenix Suns Remain in the Hunt
The Portland Trail Blazers escaped with a hard-earned 134-131 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday in Orlando. The huge win was a crucial victory for the Trail Blazers, as it helped them overtake the Memphis Grizzlies in the race for the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
Lillard was simply unstoppable on Tuesday, as he finished with 61 points on 17-for-32 shooting from the field, including a 9-for-17 clip from beyond the arc. The superstar point guard also added eight assists, five rebounds, and two steals in a match where he clearly showed his determination to lead Portland to the playoffs.
"Ain't nothing I want more," Lillard said of making the playoffs via ESPN. "When I came here, I told them I'm not here to waste my time. Our work ain't done yet but we're fighting for it."
Lillard's 61-point performance came after he torched the Philadelphia 76ers with 51 points on Sunday. Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said that Lillard has been on a different level since letting his team down with missed free throws and crucial baskets in their tough loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.
"He's showing a lot of resolve," Stotts said of Lillard. "Nobody wanted to come into this bubble and make the playoffs more than Dame. We have one more game to go, but his leadership and his game speak for itself. But he's bringing the team along with him."
Carmelo Anthony also had another solid night for the Trail Blazers, as he ended up with 26 points and eight rebounds to go along with two assists and two steals. Zach Collins and Gary Trent Jr. added 11 points for the Blazers. CJ McCollum had a rough night with just eight points on 2-for-14 shooting, and it was later revealed that the superstar guard is playing with an injured back.
With the big win against the Mavericks, Portland just needs to beat the Brooklyn Nets to clinch the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings. It would give them a double elimination advantage in the play-in round for the final playoff ticket in the West.
On the other hand, Kristaps Porzingis finished with 36 points to go along with six rebounds and two blocks to lead Dallas. Luka Doncic racked up 25 points and 10 assists on top of eight rebounds, while Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith added 24 and 15 points, respectively.
The Mavericks had a chance to steal the win from the Trail Blazers despite Lillard's remarkable performance. Finney-Smith knocked down a corner three-pointer with 4.5 seconds left in the match, but it was eventually ruled out as Trey Burke was called for an offensive fall for knocking Lillard down after his pass to Finney-Smith. Doncic questioned the crucial call that waived off what was supposed to be a potential game-winning three.
"They call what they see out there," Doncic said. "Personally, on the last play, I don't think it was an offensive foul. Especially I don't think you call those fouls in that moment. They can make mistakes."
Dallas dropped to 43-31 and remained seventh in the Western Conference. The loss to the Trail Blazers hurt their chances of moving up to the sixth spot in the West, which could have helped them avoid a first-round showdown with the Clippers, who are one of the favorites to win the title this year.
Phoenix Suns Continue to Sizzle in the Bubble
Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns are still unbeaten since the restart after running away with a 130-117 victory over the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers in Orlando. The win against the 76ers was the Suns' seventh consecutive win in as many games inside the NBA bubble, helping them keep their playoff hopes alive.
Devin Booker had another remarkable game for the Suns, as the All-Star guard erupted for 35 points to go along with nine rebounds and seven assists. Mikal Bridges also made a huge impact with 24 markers, while Dario Saric and Ricky Rubio added 18 and 16 points with the latter posting 10 assists and five rebounds as well.
The Suns improved to 33-39 and are currently in 10th place in the West standings. Phoenix has a strong chance to make the play-in round, but it would all depend on the results of the other teams in the running on Thursday. Head coach Monty Williams, whose team will face the Dallas Mavericks in their final seeding game, is looking forward to the challenge.
"We know that we're not totally in control of our fate, but we put ourselves in a good position," Williams said via AZ Central. "Nobody would've guessed the Phoenix Suns would be in this position before all of this started and our guys have just battled and executed and made the plays necessary to give us a chance. I'm always in the mindset of the next right thing and for us, it's going to be how we approach tomorrow whether it's film or rest and recovery, we do have it in our sights."
San Antonio Spurs Keep Playoff Chance Alive, Memphis Grizzlies Drop to 9th in the West
Like the Suns, the San Antonio Spurs also kept their chance of making the playoffs alive after cruising to a 123-105 win over the Houston Rockets. Keldon Johnson provided a huge boost off the bench, tallying a double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Spurs.
DeMar DeRozan was in his usual rhythm with 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting to go along with six rebounds and four assists, while Jacob Poeltl also had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Rudy Gay and Marco Belinelli added 13 points apiece, while Lonnie Walker IV ended up with 12 points and seven boards.
The Spurs still have a chance to grab one of the spots in the play-in round but they do not have control over their faith. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, though, that regardless of the results of the games on Thursday, he would walk out of the bubble with a smile on his face because he felt they accomplished what they wanted to achieve in the restart, where they played without starters LaMarcus Aldridge, Bryn Forbes, and Trey Lyles.
"The development has been off the charts," Popovich, who went into the bubble with the goal of developing their young players, said via San Antonio Express-News. "If we are fortunate and we have another team or two help us, that will be thrilling. But we have already accomplished what we thought we were capable of accomplishing. It's a win-win no matter what."
Meanwhile, the Memphis Grizzlies, who have been occupying the eighth spot in the Western Conference since the start of the seeding games, dropped to ninth in the standings after taking a 122-107 loss to the Boston Celtics. Celtics All-Star forward Jayson Tatum was simply too much, as the 22-year-old finished with 29 points and six rebounds.
The Grizzlies dropped to 33-39 and would need to beat the Milwaukee Bucks to secure a spot in the play-in round. But despite losing grip on the eighth spot heading into the crucial games on Thursday, Grizzlies rookie sensation Ja Morant said that their morale is still high at this point of the season.
"I feel like every game we play it's the underdog," Morant, who finished with 26 points and 13 assists against the Celtics, said via ESPN. "We were projected to be 27th this year and we here. So that's how we've been attacking every game. I feel like our next game won't be no different."
The Grizzlies caught a break, though, as they will face the Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo. The reigning NBA Most Valuable Player was suspended for a game after an intentional headbutt on Mo Wagner in their 126-113 win over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.
The Celtics, on the other hand, clinched the third seed in the Eastern Conference with the win. Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward had productive nights for Boston with 19 points apiece, while Marcus Smart and Enes Kanter contributed 11 points apiece off the bench.
"I think we're pretty close to being ready, especially after tonight," Walker said after the game. "We've definitely come a long way. We're jelling really well. We're having fun. Competing at a very high level. I think we're feeling pretty good right now."
Brooklyn Nets Keep Momentum Heading into the Playoffs
The Brooklyn Nets kept their momentum with a 108-96 win over the Orlando Magic. The Nets have now won in their last three games, and in five of their seven games inside the NBA bubble.
With the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference already secured, the Nets opted to rest their starters, but their bench players were up to the task against Orlando. Timothy Luwawu-Cabarrot and Jeremiah Martin finished with 24 points for Brooklyn, while Dzanan Musa and Tyler Johnson chipped in 17 and 14 points, respectively.
"We've been having a good rhythm and playing really well on both ends of the court," Luwawu-Cabarrot said via ESPN. "It's really important going to the playoffs, the first round, so we stayed together."
The Nets will go up against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday before facing the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs. The Magic, on the other hand, will end the seeding games against the New Orleans Pelicans before starting their first-round playoff series against the Bucks.