NBA

Lillard's Trail Blazers pip Suns to play-in game, Spurs miss playoffs for first time in 23 years

By Sports Desk August 13, 2020

The Portland Trail Blazers dramatically set up a Western Conference play-in showdown against the Memphis Grizzlies as the red-hot Phoenix Suns missed out on the NBA playoffs.

Portland clinched the eighth seed in the west thanks to a nail-biting 134-133 win over the Brooklyn Nets in Orlando, Florida on Thursday.

The Suns improved to 8-0 at Walt Disney World Resort with a 128-102 victory against the Dallas Mavericks, and needed a Nets win to secure a play-in spot.

However, Damian Lillard's heroics of 42 points and 12 assists ensured the Trail Blazers clinched a play-in date against the Grizzlies – who trumped the Milwaukee Bucks 119-106 earlier in the day.

The Trail Blazers finished with a 35-39 record, ahead of the Grizzlies (34-39). Portland will only have to beat Memphis once in order to secure a playoff berth against the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers, while the Grizzlies require two wins against the Trail Blazers.

Phoenix (34-39) are the first team in NBA history to end the regular season on an eight-plus game winning streak and still miss the playoffs. The last team to do that in any of the four major sports were NHL's the Philadelphia Flyers in 1992-93, per STATS.

 

LeBron ends regular season as assist king

The Lakers lost 136-122 to the Sacramento Kings but LeBron James was still crowned the assist king in 2019-20. James had 17 points in 15 minutes, all in the first half. The three-time NBA champion and four-time MVP ends the regular season averaging a league-best 10.2 assists per game, ahead of the Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young (9.3). The 35-year-old also reached double figures in points in his 995th consecutive game.

Lillard has 154 points across his past three games, the second most by any player in a three-game span this season – behind himself in January (158). Per STATS, the last player with 150-plus points in two separate three-game spans in a season was Wilt Chamberlain in 1964-65.

Devin Booker put up 27 points as the Suns stayed unbeaten since the NBA's restart following the coronavirus pandemic, but it was not enough.

Dillon Brooks' 31 points led the way for the Grizzlies, while he was aided by team-mates Jonas Valanciunas (26 points, 19 rebounds, 12 assists) and Ja Morant (12 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists).

Jusuf Nurkic scored 22 points and 10 rebounds, while CJ McCollum had 25 points for the Trail Blazers. Caris LeVert finished with 37 points for the Nets.

 

Spurs' record-tying playoff streak over

The Spurs will not feature in the NBA playoffs for the first time in 23 years. San Antonio's absence from the postseason for the first time since 1996-97 was confirmed prior to their 118-112 loss to the Utah Jazz.

 

Dame from the arc

Lillard continues to prove his worth for the Blazers. Instrumental to Portland's play-in berth, Lillard highlighted his quality with a flurry of threes.

 

Thursday's results

Washington Wizards 96-90 Boston Celtics
Sacramento Kings 136-122 Los Angeles Lakers
Memphis Grizzlies 119-106 Milwaukee Bucks
Phoenix Suns 128-102 Dallas Mavericks
Utah Jazz 118-112 San Antonio Spurs
Portland Trail Blazers 134-133 Brooklyn Nets
Orlando Magic 133-127 New Orleans Pelicans

 

Regular season concludes

Friday will see teams play their final regular-season games before the playoffs start on August 17. The Denver Nuggets face the Toronto Raptors, the Miami Heat meet the Indiana Pacers, the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Los Angeles Clippers and the Houston Rockets play the Philadelphia 76ers.

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    The Heat failed to close out the Eastern Conference finals as they blew a 12-point lead to lose 121-108, meaning their series advantage was cut to 3-2 ahead of Game 6 on Sunday.

    Adebayo, who played with a sleeve on his left arm after supposedly suffering an injury late in Game 4, contributed 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting, eight rebounds and eight assists but felt he lacked intensity on the defensive end.

    "I played like s***. Bottom line. I put that game on me. It's not my team-mates' fault, it's not my coaches' fault, it's me. I missed too many shots I should have made. Put that one on me," said Adebayo.

    "I wasn't being the defensive anchor that I should have been. I don't think I was communicating fast enough. I feel like I was a step behind today.

    "I got to be better. That's the bottom line. That's it. There's no excuses to this ... this game is on me. I played terrible and that can't happen."

    Butler insisted the defeat was "on everybody" and said he would attempt to lift Adebayo's spirits ahead of Game 6. 

    "It's not [on Adebayo]. It's on everybody. He does so much for us that it could feel like that at times, but it's definitely not on him. It's on us as a whole," said Butler. 

    "We all understand that because nobody was playing the way we're supposed to play, the way we have to play in order for us to win. Nobody. And for him to say that, I respect it, I love him for it. But he can't do it by himself – we've got to be there with him. 

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    "We need everybody to be that way. We're gonna watch film, we're gonna learn from it, not saying we already don't know what went wrong, but we'll be ready to go. We will fix it." 

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    The Celtics rallied for a 121-108 victory over Miami on Friday to cut the Heat's Eastern Conference finals lead to 3-2.

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    Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra lamented his side's inability to slow the Celtics down.

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    Game 6 is on Sunday.

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