The list of Kobe Bryant's accomplishments during his 20 NBA seasons is almost too long to recount.  

Yet among his All-Star selections, championships and signature moments, his 81-point game stands out both for its historical significance and its representation of Bryant's personality and career.  

Friday marks the 15th anniversary of this astounding feat, the closest anyone has ever come to Wilt Chamberlain's NBA scoring record, a seemingly impossible 100 points.  

Chamberlain reached triple digits on March 2, 1962, in a much different NBA than the one Bryant faced. Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game that season while playing every minute of every game. In scoring 100 points, he led the Philadelphia Warriors to a 169-147 win over the New York Knicks.  

Bryant's feat, while falling short of the century mark, remains the gold standard for scoring in the modern game.  

On January 22, 2006, the Toronto Raptors travelled to Los Angeles to face the Lakers and were gaining confidence. After a desperate 1-15 start, Toronto's season had stabilised, and the Raptors entered Staples Center having won 10 of their previous 16 games. But Toronto had just allowed 113 points in a win against Seattle and entered the game giving up 102.2 points per game, third-most in the NBA.  

Bryant went on to make history, making 28 of his 46 field goal attempts – including 7-for-12 shooting from beyond the arc – and hitting 18 of 20 free throws.  

Perhaps the greatest testament to Bryant's achievement is that no player over the 15 years since has come particularly close to scoring 81 points in a game, despite several factors working in their favor.  

In 2005-06, a team got 79.0 field goal attempts per game on average, the fourth-slowest pace of all time. Almost any other season in NBA history would have been more likely to have an astounding scoring outburst.  

In the 1961-62 season, when Chamberlain made history, teams averaged 107.7 shots per game and attempted 37.1 free throws per game, nearly 11 more than in 2005-06.  

The league has picked up its pace since Bryant's feat as well, with teams attempting 88.8 field goals last season, giving the modern player more opportunities than Bryant had.  

The other advantage that current players have in piling up stats is the three-point shot.  

Bryant's 7-for-13 performance from deep was dynamic in 2006. Twice in the 2005-06 season, Chicago Bulls guard Ben Gordon made nine three-pointers in a game to lead the league. Only four players made more than seven threes in a game that season. The average team attempted 16.0 threes per game.  

Teams are launching an average of 35.1 three-point attempts during this young season, on pace to be the 10th in a row with an increase in long-range shooting. Ten players have already made eight or more threes in a game this season, despite most teams having played about 15 games.  

Even with a faster pace and increased frequency of long-distance barrages in the modern game, Bryant's 81-point mark still appears virtually unobtainable.  

Since that date, Devin Booker's 70 points are the high mark. There have been 19 games in which a player scored 60 or more, four by Bryant himself.  

One integral element to Bryant's scoring explosion was the composition of that Lakers team. Bryant did have Lamar Odom, but LA's other starters on that historic night were Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm and Smush Parker. The Lakers finished that season 45-37, far from a bad team, but Bryant scored 35.4 points per game as the Lakers relied on him almost entirely for scoring.  

Bryant scored 34.7 percent of the Lakers' points that season, the fourth-highest scoring share of all time. Only Chamberlain and Michael Jordan have scored a higher percentage of a team's points in a season.  

Given that profile, there are a few players who stand out as possible candidates to make a run at a historical scoring game in the foreseeable future.  

Booker, James Harden and Kemba Walker all have at least one 60-point game in their careers but now find themselves on teams with better supporting casts, making it unlikely they could get enough shots to chase history.  

Damian Lillard, however, could fit the mould perfectly. Team-mates CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic will both miss significant time due to injuries, and Lillard has crossed the 60-point barrier three times, all within the past 15 months. Add his 36.2 minutes per game – top 10 in the league – and 10.1 three-point attempts per game, and Lillard seems as likely as anyone to produce a dazzling scoring total.  

Stephen Curry scored a career-high 62 points on January 3 and will be a constant centerpiece in the Golden State Warriors' offense without Klay Thompson. While Curry is 25th in the league at 34.4 minutes per game, his historic three-point shooting makes him a constant threat.  

League scoring leader Bradley Beal remains in the mix, despite the Washington Wizards acquiring ball-hungry Russell Westbrook in the offseason. Westbrook has often taken games off due to rest, and Beal scored 60 on January 6. He also carries the advantage of getting to the free throw line 9.5 times per game, fourth in the NBA this season.  

That list ignores perennial MVP candidates Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, as well as young dynamos like Trae Young and Luka Doncic.  

The fact that there are so many candidates to make a run at 81 points without anyone coming close in the past 15 years indicates just how phenomenal Bryant's accomplishment was.  

Whether Bryant's mark lasts forever or is eventually bested, it will always be a brilliant snapshot of an all-time great player. He won championships before and after his 81-point game, but Bryant's legacy is as a scorer and a relentless competitor, perfectly represented by that gaudy scoring total 15 years ago.  

Bryant wore number eight and number 24 during his decorated career, but 81 is just as important to his legacy.

The Portland Trail Blazers have been dealt another injury blow with shooting guard CJ McCollum ruled out for at least four weeks.

McCollum hurt his foot during the victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday and sat out Monday's game against the San Antonio Spurs, which ended in a 125-104 loss for the Trail Blazers that saw them slip to 8-6.

Portland were already without center Jusuf Nurkic due to a right wrist fracture and he has been joined on the sidelines by McCollum.

A statement tweeted by the Trail Blazers read: "Further imaging reveals CJ McCollum with a small hairline fracture to the lateral cuneiform in his left foot and a mid-foot sprain.

"McCollum will wear a walking boot and be re-evaluated in four weeks."

Prior to his injury, McCollum was performing at the highest level of his career. Through 13 games he was averaging 26.7 points and 4.8 made three-pointers per game, both of which would be career highs.

Asked about adjusting to the losses of Nurkic and McCollum after the defeat to the Spurs, All-Star point guard Damian Lillard said: "It's tough. We've had that type of luck over the years, it's always been something.

"But we pride ourselves on be able to adjust to that and keep our stride whatever comes our way. We trust our experience in these situations.

"It's not always going to be perfect. When a guy goes down, or in our case two of our best players go down, the next game might not be the game where it just happens. It might be a game or two or three where you struggle and then it clicks, it might be one game or you might not miss a beat.

"It wasn't the outcome we wanted but we're still going to believe in each other, we're still going to have a high level of accountability and I think next game we're going to be better and we should expect to be better."

Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic is set for another spell on the sidelines after suffering a right wrist fracture on Thursday.

Nurkic left the Trail Blazers' 111-87 defeat to the Indiana Pacers in the third quarter after hurting his arm while swiping at Malcolm Brogdon.

The 26-year-old Bosnian suffered a broken leg in 2019 and spent over a year out, only returning in July last year after the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Head coach Terry Stotts was planning to discuss whether Portland should bring in another big with general manager Neil Olshey on Friday, given Zach Collins is already out due to an Achilles problem.

"I did see [Nurkic] after the game. He had a splint on, so obviously very disappointing for him and for us," said Stotts.

"He had a long road back from his other injury, he had a rough start to the season, it looked like he was getting back on track and obviously this is a huge setback for both him and for us.

"I'm going to sit down with Neil tomorrow and we'll talk about what options we have.

"Most likely [Enes Kanter will start], but we'll evaluate that. Obviously, Harry Giles is going to get an opportunity to play and we'll figure out whether it's best to start him or bring him off the bench, but we'll see."

Nurkic averaged 9.8 points and 7.7 rebounds through 12 games this season. He had five points on 2-of-8 shooting and eight rebounds before leaving the game against the Pacers.

Damian Lillard called on his fellow Trail Blazers to rally together and fill the void that Nurkic's absence creates.

"We've got to show our love for him but also give him his space. It's hard to deal with when the game we love to play and is part of our lives every day is taken away abruptly," said Lillard.

"We're always going to be here for him. It's a tough thing. It comes with what we do and it can happen at any time.

"[He was] frustrated, disappointed, a little sad, like anyone would be in that situation.

"He plays a major part in our team and our success. Obviously you're not going to have one person turn into Nurk, it has to be by committee. In the past we've been able to count on guys to come in and fill those holes collectively and that's what we'll be looking at now."

CJ McCollum added: "It's terrible. He's a huge part of our team. Obviously he's been through a lot historically with injuries, so you never want to see it with anybody, especially him.

"It's tough. The season still goes on, it waits for no one, so we have to figure out a way to continue to move forward.

"Enes has been big for us in the past so will have to step up, Harry will have to play, some small ball, we'll do a lot of different stuff. It's an unfortunate part of the game but it's a challenge and I'm looking forward to seeing how we respond to it."

The Los Angeles Lakers set a franchise record after winning again on the road, while Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic made NBA history.

LeBron James posted 26 points and defending champions the Lakers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 128-99 on Wednesday.

The streaking Lakers (10-3), who have won four successive games, improved to 7-0 away from home this season – surpassing the 1985-86 team for the best start on the road.

James has had at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in all 13 games this season. In the last 30 years, the only NBA player to have a longer streak of 15/five/five games to start a season was James himself in 2011-12 (22 straight), according to Stats Perform.

Lakers team-mate Montrezl Harrell had 21 points, while Anthony Davis put up 18 points and seven rebounds in Oklahoma City midweek.

Doncic became the first player in NBA history to post 34 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists, four blocks, two steals and five threes made, per Stats Perform.

The Mavericks went on to win 104-93 and snap the Charlotte Hornets' four-game winning streak.

Mavericks star Kristaps Porzingis returned from a knee injury and scored 16 points in his first appearance since undergoing surgery in October.

 

Red-hot Giannis fuels Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo's triple-double guided the Milwaukee Bucks past the Detroit Pistons 110-101. The two-time reigning MVP finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his 20th career triple-double.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum put on a show as the Portland Trail Blazers prevailed 132-126 against the Sacramento Kings. Lillard (40 points and 13 assists) and McCollum (28 points and 10 assists) became the first team-mate duo in NBA history to have 25-plus points, 10-plus assists and five-plus three-pointers made in the same game, per Stats Perform. They are also the first duo in the NBA to have 25-plus points, 10-plus assists and one or fewer turnovers in the same game since 1987.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker starred with 37 points, but the New Orleans Pelicans still lost 111-106 to the Los Angeles Clippers. Kawhi Leonard (28) and Paul George (27) combined for 55 points in the Clippers' win.

The Memphis Grizzlies topped the Minnesota Timberwolves 118-107 behind Jonas Valanciunas' 24 points and 16 rebounds.

 

Knicks duo struggle

The New York Knicks did not get much support from their two starting point guards in a 116-109 loss to city rivals the Brooklyn Nets. Austin Rivers was three-of-10 shooting from the field and two-of-five from three-point range for eight points in 34 minutes. Elfrid Peyton was just three of 11 from the field, while making just one of three-point attempts as he finished with seven points in 33 minutes.

 

Nurkic says no!

There was no way past Jusuf Nurkic as the Trail Blazers big man denied Glenn Robinson III in the fourth quarter.

 

Wednesday's results

Dallas Mavericks 104-93 Charlotte Hornets
Milwaukee Bucks 110-101 Detroit Pistons
Brooklyn Nets 116-109 New York Knicks
Memphis Grizzlies 118-107 Minnesota Timberwolves
Los Angeles Lakers 128-99 Oklahoma City Thunder
Los Angeles Clippers 111-106 New Orleans Pelicans
Portland Trail Blazers 132-126 Sacramento Kings
Utah Jazz-Washington Wizards (postponed)
Orlando Magic-Boston Celtics (postponed)
Atlanta Hawks-Phoenix Suns (postponed)

 

Rockets at Spurs

As James Harden reportedly heads to the Nets, the Houston Rockets (3-6) will look to cast the chaos aside when they face the San Antonio Spurs (6-5) on the road on Thursday.

LeBron James recognised the Los Angeles Lakers have to do a better job of finding Anthony Davis following Monday's 115-107 reverse to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Davis returned from a one-game absence as a result of a calf injury and had a quiet night, putting up just 13 points.

Only two of those came from 17 minutes in the first half and James said it is the team's duty to get Davis involved.

"We always gotta do a better job of finding him, looking for him, that's on us," he said.

Head coach Frank Vogel concurred, saying: "We didn't do a good enough job making sure he was involved in the offense in the first half. 

"It was a little bit better in the second half, it was one of those nights, we were kind of stuck in mud a little bit.

"I've got to make sure I get him the ball in opportunities where he can be aggressive."

Davis offered an update on his calf and said he has to show more aggression to score points.

"The calf is feeling good," he said.

"I gotta score the ball, simple as that. Obviously I was trying to make plays, find rhythm with the team. 

"I tried to find my rhythm back into the system, but gotta be more aggressive, go out and score the basketball, simple as that do whatever it takes to win the game."

James finished the game with 29 points, nine rebounds and six assists and felt the only difference between the teams was how they finished their plays.

"Both teams just settled in, I knew we were playing a very good team, knew it wouldn't be a blowout, both teams settled in and it came down to execution," he said.

It was a team effort from the Trailblazers, with Damian Lillard putting up 31 points - 21 of which came in an inspired second half - while CJ McCollum had 20 points and 11 assists, and Gary Trent Jr matched his career high seven three-pointers as part of his 28 points.

"It makes us just a little bit more confident to be coming on the road and continuing to grow, continuing to build on our effort," Lillard said. 

"We're just getting more comfortable with each other, and we're bringing our energy."

LeBron James and Anthony Davis were both named in the All-NBA First Team on Wednesday as the Los Angeles Lakers prepare to face the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

The All-NBA selections were announced as the playoffs hot up in Orlando, although the Lakers duo were the only remaining members of the First Team.

James and Davis were joined by James Harden, whose Houston Rockets they beat in the second round, along with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

MVP candidates James and Antetokounmpo were both unanimous votes.

The Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard and playoff nemesis Nikola Jokic headlined the Second Team. Jokic led the Nuggets past the Clippers on Tuesday to complete another remarkable series fightback.

Damian Lillard was also included after carrying the Portland Trail Blazers into the postseason, alongside veteran Chris Paul, who impressed following his trade from the Rockets to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Pascal Siakam - disappointing in the playoffs for defending champions the Toronto Raptors - made up the selection.

Meanwhile, in the Third Team, the Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum and the Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler are both still alive as Eastern Conference Finals opponents.

Russell Westbrook, part of the Paul trade, got recognition, too, and was joined by Rudy Gobert and Ben Simmons, the latter ending the season injured.

Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will leave the NBA bubble in Orlando for further examination of his injured right knee. 

Lillard was on Tuesday listed as out for Game 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers the following day, as a second MRI scan confirmed he had a sprain. 

The five-time All-Star suffered the injury in the third quarter of Monday's 135-115 loss to the Lakers in Game 4, as the eighth-seeded Portland fell 3-1 behind in the best-of-seven series. 

Lillard averaged 30.0 points, 8.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game in the regular season, while he was averaging 24.3 points, 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds in the playoffs. 

He will undergo further assessment of his injury in Portland, with no time frame for his potential return to action supplied. 

"Damian Lillard will leave the NBA campus in Orland on Thursday and return to Portland for further examination of his injured right knee," the Trail Blazers tweeted. 

"Lillard's availability to return to the Orlando campus is yet to be determined. Further updates will be provided as necessary."

Wednesday's meeting between the Trail Blazers and Lakers was postponed after the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their Game 5 against the Orlando Magic. The Houston Rockets' clash with the Oklahoma City Thunder was also called off. 

The Bucks made the decision not to take the floor after Jacob Blake was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the team's home state. 

Blake's family say he has been left paralysed from the waist down and the incident, footage of which was shared on social media, has led to further protests against racial injustice in the United States. 

They follow demonstrations across the globe in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.

The Portland Trail Blazers have been dealt a blow after star guard Damian Lillard was ruled out of the Game 5 showdown against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA playoffs.

Lillard will miss Wednesday's crucial clash in the Western Conference first round due to a right knee sprain, the Trail Blazers announced on Tuesday.

The in-form Lillard suffered the injury in the third quarter of Monday's 135-115 loss to the Lakers in Game 4, as the eighth-seeded Trail Blazers fell 3-1 behind in the best-of-seven series.

LeBron's Lakers – the top seeds – can seal their spot in the second round at Walt Disney World Resort midweek.

Lillard averaged 30.0 points, 8.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game in the regular season, while he was averaging 24.3 points, 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds in the playoffs.

LeBron James says it was "surreal" to surpass Tim Duncan for playoff wins because the former San Antonio Spurs great "lived in the postseason".

The Los Angeles Lakers star contributed 38 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists to Saturday's 116-108 Game 3 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, claiming a 2-1 lead in the first-round series.

In the process, James claimed his 158th career postseason victory, moving clear of five-time champion Duncan and closing on 161-win all-time leader Derek Fisher.

The latest achievement of a glittering career was a source of great pride for James.

He said: "It's just always surreal for me when my name is associated with any of the greats. Obviously, you know how great Tim Duncan was in this league with that franchise.

"I had my battles with him and was a team-mate with him in the Olympics. Just seeing what he was able to accomplish, not only in the regular season but, more importantly, in the postseason...

"Basically, he lived in the postseason. That was his address.

"So, for me to be linked with a great in the Big Fundamental, it means a lot - not only to myself but to my home town and whoever has been following my career."

The Lakers have now enjoyed back-to-back wins after dropping the first game of the series to the eighth-seeded Blazers, but James is still determined to keep improving.

"At the end of the day, we want to get better every game throughout the series," he explained.

"We played extremely well in Game 2, we played really well tonight, but there's still some things we can get better at. We know that Portland's going to be better in Game 4.

"We have to have the same mindset going into Game 4, knowing that we're desperate and they're desperate as well. Who plays and who finds their keys and makes the least amount of mistakes will become victorious.

"Every game has its own challenges. We begin to prepare for them tomorrow, watch a lot of film and see the ways we can get better."

Portland were hampered by Damian Lillard's dislocated finger, suffered in Game 2, although he still top-scored for the Blazers on Saturday with 34 points.

"Obviously, I dislocated it, so it's going to have some effect in terms of ball-handling," Lillard said. "Tonight the biggest thing I felt was going up to shoot, gathering the ball.

"Sometimes I would subconsciously try to ease up on it, so I would lose the ball a little bit.

"When I'm making moves, in the middle of my dribble, sometimes I would ease up on it because I would feel the pain and lose the ball a little bit. It would stop me in my tracks.

"But I did as much treatment as I could. I tried to just ignore it. Once you decide to step out there, it is what it is. You've got to go out there and do what you've got to do. That's what I tried to do."

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard insisted he would continue playing despite dislocating his finger.

Lillard dislocated his finger as the Trail Blazers fell to the Los Angeles Lakers 111-88 on Thursday, leaving their Western Conference first-round series at 1-1.

The star guard had 18 points on six-of-14 shooting and admitted to some discomfort with the finger.

However, Lillard said: "I'm playing."

He earlier said: "It's just sore, a little bit tender to the touch and dislocated it so it's just sore, a little bit swollen and uncomfortable."

Anthony Davis' double-double of 31 points and 11 rebounds led the Lakers, with Game 3 to be played on Saturday.

Lillard felt Portland were simply below their best offensively in Game 2.

"I wouldn't say we were due, but I do think that the game balances itself out," he said.

"Some guys come out and have a huge night and then the next night they can be cooled off. Some teams play really well for stretches and then they have that game where they cool off.

"I think we've played really well offensively since we've been here so I wouldn't say we were due, but it happens."

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are not getting carried away with their win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round series.

Lillard starred as the eighth-seeded Trail Blazers upstaged top seeds the Lakers 100-93 in the NBA playoffs at Walt Disney World Resort on Tuesday.

Featuring in the postseason after topping the Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in game, the Trail Blazers drew first blood against the Lakers thanks to Lillard's game-high 34 points in Orlando, Florida.

The teams were locked at 89-89 before the Trail Blazers – led by Lillard – powered past LeBron James and the Lakers, who made their first playoff appearance since 2013.

Lillard, however, refused to dwell on the victory as the Trail Blazers look ahead to Game 2 on Thursday.

"I thought it was just a great effort by the team," Lillard, who nailed six three-pointers, told reporters. "From the start of the game, we came out with the focus and energy we needed against the best team in the league.

"We played together. We shared the ball. We didn't have any major lulls. Obviously they made some runs, but when it got down the stretch, we kept our heads down and kept working. We made the plays on both ends to pull out the win.

"But we know it's only going to get harder from here. It's only one game. The job is far away from being done. But I'm proud of our effort in getting the first one."

The Trail Blazers have been red hot since the 2019-20 NBA season resumed in July after the league was postponed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Responding to a question suggesting Portland could afford to lose a game and still be in a healthy position against the Lakers, Lillard replied: "That doesn't make sense, coming into a game thinking you can lose a game. You come into every game trying to win it.

"The key to the playoffs is the first team to win four games. I don't think it makes any sense to ever come into a game saying we can lose. You always want to try to extend your lead in a series. That's what our mentality is.

"We know it's only going to get harder from here. They're a great team, the number one seed. I'm not concerned with our mentality going forward. The leaders of the team… the team is going to go as we go as far as the mentality."

Lillard also heaped praise on Trail Blazers team-mate Hassan Whiteside, who finished with five blocks to help stifle James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers.

"He was big time," Lillard said. "We knew coming into this series, once we got there, they have a lot of guys who are accurate in the paint.

"They're big in there, so we need our big guys to have a presence in the paint at both ends of the floor.

"I thought tonight now he protected the paint, blocked shots, changed shots, rebounded. He had a positive impact on the game. Without him out there, we don't win. We need that type of effort."

It was a day of upsets in the NBA playoffs as the eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers and Orlando Magic upstaged the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks respectively.

Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers powered past top seeds the Lakers 100-93 in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series on Tuesday, while the Magic stunned the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Bucks 122-110 in their Eastern Conference opener.

It is the second time in NBA postseason history that both eighth seeds have beaten the top seeds in Game 1, per STATS. The other occasion was in 2003, when the Magic and Phoenix Suns trumped the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs.

Lillard maintained his red-hot form with 34 points to inspire the Trail Blazers at Walt Disney World Resort, where Trail Blazers team-mates CJ McCollum (21 points) and Carmelo Anthony (11 points and 10 rebounds) made solid contributions in Orlando, Florida.

LeBron James' triple-double of 23 points, 17 rebounds and 16 assists were not enough as the Lakers superstar (12-2) lost for just the second time in the opening game of a first-round matchup.

The Magic – without a playoff series win since 2010 – did not follow the script as they took down the Bucks thanks to Nikola Vucevic's big night.

Vucevic had a playoff career-high 35 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Magic past the Bucks, who swept the season series by winning four games by an average of 17 points.

A double-double of 31 points and 17 rebounds from reigning MVP Antetokounmpo was not enough to lift the Bucks – eyeing their first championship since 1971.

 

Harden launches Rockets, Butler's Heat cool Pacers

No Russell Westbrook, no problem for the Houston Rockets. In the absence of the injured star, James Harden posted 37 points and 11 rebounds as the Rockets – seeded fourth in the west – soared past the Oklahoma City Thunder 123-108 in their series opener. Houston made 20 three-pointers.

Danilo Gallinari matched a playoff career-high with 29 points for the fifth-seeded Thunder. Chris Paul recorded 20 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists against his former team. Steven Adams put up 17 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double.

Jimmy Butler fuelled the Miami Heat's 113-101 victory over the fourth-seeded Indiana Pacers in Game 1. Butler had 28 points, including two big three-pointers in the final quarter. Goran Dragic added 24 points, while Bam Adebayo (17 points and 10 rebounds) finished with a double-double.

 

Oladipo adds to Pacers' defeat

Pacers star Victor Oladipo is day-to-day after injuring his left eye against the Heat. Oladipo was inadvertently poked in the eye by Miami's Jae Crowder with just over three minutes remaining in the opening quarter. He had scored four points in nine minutes prior to exiting.

Dennis Schroder struggled to make an impact in 32 minutes for the Thunder. A threat off the bench, Schroder was three of 12 from the field while he missed all five three-point attempts for just six points.

Milwaukee made 43 per cent from the field, and were 14 of 42 from three-point land against the Magic.

 

No stopping LeBron!

James flew past the Trail Blazers en route to his swift basket.

Somehow, a diving Adebayo made this stunning shot for the Heat with his back towards the rim.

Tuesday's results

Houston Rockets 123-108 Oklahoma City Thunder
Miami Heat 113-101 Indiana Pacers
Orlando Magic 122-110 Milwaukee Bucks
Portland Trail Blazers 100-93 Los Angeles Lakers

 

76ers face Celtics

Can the Philadelphia 76ers bounce back from their Game 1 loss against old rivals the Boston Celtics? Philadelphia will meet Boston on Wednesday, with the Celtics to be without injured star Gordon Hayward (ankle).

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is wary of NBA playoff opponents the Portland Trail Blazers as they boast the hottest player in the league in star Damian Lillard.

The top-seeded Lakers will face eighth seed the Trail Blazers in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, starting Tuesday in Orlando.

Portland secured a date against LeBron James and the Lakers thanks to Saturday's play-in victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, with Lillard instrumental in the Trail Blazers' remarkable run to the postseason.

Lillard leads the NBA in scoring at Walt Disney World Resort since the restart with 37.6 points per game, including the play-in clash. He is also averaging 46.3 points in his past four games following a career-high 61 against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month.

As the Lakers prepare to make their first playoff appearance since 2013, Vogel – in his maiden season with the storied franchise – praised Lillard and the Trail Blazers.

"Definitely not your typical eighth seed," Vogel said in a videoconference call on Sunday. "They've played at an elite level during this stretch in the bubble, at least offensively.

"And we've got a ton of respect for obviously Dame and CJ [McCollum] and [Jusuf] Nurkic, but really for their whole team and their whole culture. They've got a system that's been together for a number of years.

"They have the continuity piece, [Western] Conference Finals last year, so just a ton of respect for what they're bringing to the table."

Lakers star Anthony Davis also hailed Lillard, adding: "He's balling right now. He’s hot. He's doing whatever he's doing, whatever he can do to make his team win. He's carrying the load. Playing a ton of minutes.

"And so he's the head of the snake for their team. You gotta do your best to contain him and take away some of his tendencies. But they also have other guys who make plays as well.

"So they're a tough opponent, but everybody knows what level he's on and his mindset. And he's gonna go out there and do what he can to help his team win."

Meanwhile, Vogel said Rajon Rondo will clear quarantine on Monday, though there is no timetable for the Lakers guard's return.

Rondo has been sidelined with a fractured right thumb, forced to leave the Orlando bubble prior to the season resuming amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"I'm not sure exactly when he's going to be available to be in uniform," Vogel said. "We'll get him on the court and see where he's at. But no specific timetable yet on him."

With the regular season over, it's time for business in the Orlando bubble.

The Portland Trail Blazers completed the NBA's playoff bracket with their play-in win against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.

Now, Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks, the LeBron-James led Los Angeles Lakers and Kawhi Leonard's Los Angeles Clippers are among the teams vying for supremacy at Walt Disney World Resort.

With the postseason scheduled to start on Monday, we use STATS data to preview the first-round series.

Eastern Conference

Milwaukee Bucks (1) v Orlando Magic (8)

Eyeing their first NBA championship since 1971, the Bucks head into the opening-round series struggling for form.

The Bucks, who went 52-8 from their first 60 games, recorded a 4-9 win-loss ratio from their last 13 fixtures – becoming the first team in NBA history to have more losses in their final 13 regular-season games than they did in the entire season prior to that.

Inside the bubble but in familiar surroundings, the Magic have the chance to snap a playoff drought, despite the odds being stacked against them.

Not since 2010 have the Magic won a playoff series. Orlando swept the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks en route to the Conference finals, before losing to the Boston Celtics. The Magic have since suffered first-round exits at the hands of the Hawks (2011), Indiana Pacers (2012) and Toronto Raptors (2019).

Toronto Raptors (2) v Brooklyn Nets (7)

Defending champions the Raptors have form on their side in pursuit of back-to-back championships.

Toronto went 27-5 over their last 32 games, easily the best record in the NBA during that period – ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-10), Los Angeles Clippers (20-10), Bucks (20-11) and Celtics (21-13).

Nets star Spencer Dinwiddie has been one of the most clutch players this season, making an NBA-high seven go-ahead baskets in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.

Dinwiddie's seven for 13 is better than the Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic (five), Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray of the Nuggets (both four).

Boston Celtics (3) v Philadelphia 76ers (6)

The Celtics renew hostilities with rivals the 76ers, having won the past four series between the two teams – Philadelphia have not claimed a series against Boston in the playoffs since 1982.

Philadelphia's hopes will rest on Joel Embiid in the absence of injured fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, who is the only player in NBA history to average 8.0-plus rebounds and 8.0-plus assists per game for his career.

The 76ers are 35-22 (.614 per cent) with Simmons in the team, while they are just 7-8 (.467 per cent) without the Australian star on the court. Philadelphia also allow more opposition points per game in his absence – 113.6 compared to 107.2.

Indiana Pacers (4) v Miami Heat (5)

All eyes will be on Indiana's T.J. Warren, who averaged 31.0 points per game with a .664 effective field-goal percentage this month following the restart.

Since 1985-86, the players with 30.0-plus points and a .650-plus effective field-goal percentage in a month (minimum five game played) are Charles Barkley (1990), Stephen Curry (2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019), Antetokounmpo (2017 and 2019) and Karl Anthony-Towns (2019).

With Heat pair Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson, Miami are the first NBA team to have two undrafted players averaging 13.0-plus points per game in the same season – minimum 70 per cent of team games played – since the Philadelphia Warriors in 1956-57 (Joe Graboski and Neil Johnston).

 

Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v Portland Trail Blazers (8)

Making their first postseason appearance since 2013, the Lakers – who have a 74.6 per cent chance of winning this series using Stats Perform's advanced simulation tool – are one of the favourites to go all the way thanks to James and Anthony Davis.

James and Davis have combined well in LA, where the former has supplied 184 assists for the All-Star recruit this season – the most to one player in 2019-20, ahead of Damian Lillard to Hassan Whiteside (132). Three-time champion and four-time MVP James is also the second-oldest player to average 10 assists or more in a season in NBA history, with Steve Nash averaging 10.0-plus assists in each of his final three campaigns.

This will be the second playoff meeting between James and Carmelo Anthony. James and the Heat eliminated Anthony and the New York Knicks in the first round in 2012. Both averaged 27.8 points in the series. James was the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, while Anthony was the third pick. Their matchups date back to high school, when LeBron was at St. Vincent St. Mary's and Carmelo at Oak Hill Academy.

Portland's go-to man Lillard leads the NBA in scoring inside the bubble at 37.6 per game, including the play-in clash. The Trail Blazers star is averaging 46.3 points in his past four games following a career-high 61 against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month. He has contributed to Portland averaging a league-high 126.0 points per game at Walt Disney World Resort, while the Lakers have only managed 106.4 points per game – the second worst behind the Washington Wizards.

How about most points per game by team-mate duos? Lillard and CJ McCollum (52.2) are second to James Harden and Russell Westbrook (61.5) but ahead of third-placed James and Davis (51.4).

Los Angeles Clippers (2) v Dallas Mavericks (7)

Can Leonard claim consecutive NBA titles after leading the Raptors to their first champion last season? Well it all begins against the Mavericks.

Leonard – the 2019 Finals MVP – averaged a career-high 27.1 points per game this season, while he averaged 30.5 during last year's playoffs. The four-time All-Star has also averaged 31.0 points per game in three games against the Mavericks this term, with the Clippers sweeping the season series.

Led by Luka Doncic, the Mavericks boast the second-highest offensive rating ever – 113.7 – behind last year's Golden State Warriors (113.9). The Clippers have a 111.1 rating, tied with the Trail Blazers for second this season.

Doncic is averaging 30.0 points, 10.1 assists and 9.7 rebounds in the bubble. The reigning Rookie of the Year also has three triple-doubles, including a 20-rebound triple-double.

Denver Nuggets (3) v Utah Jazz (6)

A Jazz team boasting the likes of Joe Ingles and Mitchell are the best three-point shooting team at 38.0 per cent, though Utah went 2-5 in their last seven regular-season games – allowing 110-plus points per game.

Rudy Gobert is also one shy of 250 career double-doubles as the Jazz look to avenge their season sweep at the hands of the Nuggets, though each game was decided by six or fewer points.

The Nuggets made the Conference semi-finals last season, snapping a five-year playoff drought. Jovic will be key for Denver, having averaged 7.0 assists per game for a second successive season – the most by any center in the NBA.

Houston Rockets (4) v Oklahoma City Thunder (5)

It will be a reunion as Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul face their former teams.

The Rockets have advanced to at least the second round of the playoffs in three straight seasons and their hopes will depend on the team's starting five – their starters are averaging 89.1 points per game, the most in the league.

Former Thunder star Harden is also coming off his third consecutive season averaging 30 or more points per game (34.3 in 2019-20). He is the franchise's all-time leader in postseason assists (510) and second in points (2,061) behind Hakeem Olajuwon (3,727).

Westbrook, who arrived from the Thunder in a blockbuster trade at the start of the season, is second all-time for Oklahoma City in playoff points (2,489), behind Kevin Durant's 2,620, third in rebounds (686), first in assists (778) and first in steals (184).

The Thunder, boasting ex-Rockets guard Paul, have not progressed beyond the first round of the postseason since 2016 after blowing a 3-1 lead against the Warriors in the Conference Finals.

The NBA bubble has already produced plenty of storylines and the playoffs have not even started yet.  

The coronavirus pandemic forced the league to think outside the box, leading to games being played within a bio-secure one. Through careful planning and at great expense, a plan was drawn up to take the show on the road to Orlando, Florida. 

Walt Disney World is used to delivering entertainment; the resumption of the basketball season has not disappointed on that front, aided by a revised structure that offered several teams renewed hope. 

Amid great uncertainty during a global health crisis, the players and teams bought into the proposal to deliver sporting drama to an eager audience watching on from afar. 

Scoring climbed upon the resumption – the average rose by 4.3 points per game per team – while the absence of the bottom feeders, those teams too far back to contend and already focused on the next campaign and beyond, led to a slight rise in the number of close contests.  

"It's better than what we had envisioned," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. "Players have taken to it in a more spirited way than we thought they would.   

"We knew that this would require enormous sacrifice on everyone's part, but I think that what is hard to calibrate - and this maybe goes to my experience when I first came into the arena - is the human emotion that comes with being around other people. And I think everyone realised they missed it more than they even understood." 

Now the initial 22-team field is down to 16, the Portland Trail Blazers confirmed in the final playoff spot after coming through a play-in tournament, one of several changes put in place due to a shortened regular season.  

The top seeds will be the focus moving forward now, but others have claimed the spotlight during the action seen so far.

RED-HOT SUNS CATCH FIRE 

The Phoenix Suns are done for the campaign despite winning all eight seeding games, another new concept from the NBA that condensed the race to qualify in both conferences.  

They were always a long shot to make it, but that did not stop Monty Williams' roster from giving it their all to make up the gap. They ended up making unwanted history, becoming the first team to finish the season on a winning streak of eight or more games and still not make the playoffs. 

Phoenix's eight straight wins all came while scoring 110 or more points in every game, matching the longest such streak in franchise history (having also done so between November 23 and December 9 way back in 1971).  

Their average points per game increased from 112.6 to 122.3, while they were successful with 40.2 per cent of their attempts from deep. The Suns were also outstanding from the free throw line, shooting 90 per cent, not to mention on social media.

Devin Booker was a major reason for the sudden hot streak. The guard averaged 30.5 points in Florida and provided one of the more memorable moments during the seeding games, hitting a buzzer-beating game-winner to down the Los Angeles Clippers.  

Booker had 20 or more points in every outing and while they missed out on the playoffs for a 10th straight season, Phoenix's form in the sunshine state provides renewed hope for the future. 

"I just think that we have a group that wanted to come here and wanted to prove to the world that they were worthy of being here," Williams said. They certainly did that.

LILLARD BLAZES A TRAIL 

The Suns only narrowly missed out on a play-in place to the Memphis Grizzlies, who owned the tie-breaker between the pair after both finished with identical 34-39 records in a competitive Western Conference.  

Memphis had arrived in Orlando sitting in eighth but dropped down a spot due to the form of the Trail Blazers, who piggybacked Damian Lillard's hot hand to go 6-2 following the restart.  

Lillard was unsurprisingly named bubble MVP, as he finished top for points, averaging an outstanding 37.6 a game, and three-pointers, hitting 44 to finish 10 ahead of team-mate Gary Trent Jr.   

The point guard had 154 points in a three-game run at one stage, just shy of the 158 he managed during a similar span back in January. His tally of 71 successful free throws, meanwhile, put him behind only James Harden (73).  

But it was not just about the scoring for Lillard, who also averaged 9.6 assists per outing for a Blazers roster who will hope to continue their fine form when they face the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs.  

To put Lillard's performances into context, the five-time NBA All-Star is the only player since the league merger to have 150-plus points, as well as 25 or more assists, in a three-game spell – and he has done it twice this season.  

If his feats on the court were not enough, the 30-year-old has also found the time to drop three tracks on a new EP titled "Live From The Bubble". Both on and off the court, Lillard has capitalised on the opportunities presented to him during this unique campaign, one that is far from over for him and his team just yet. 

The playoffs will be different, of course. They always are. The Lakers will focus on stopping Portland's top scoring option, but without Lillard's recent efforts the Trail Blazers would surely have missed out on even getting a shot at causing an upset in the opening round.

SEEDS OF CONCERN FOR LAKERS?

And what of the Lakers, the top seeds in the West who are preparing for a first playoff appearance since 2013?  

They always had a long-term goal in mind, knowing the seeding games allowed key personnel to get enough minutes to be primed for bigger challenges ahead while still having plenty left in the tank.  

Coach Frank Vogel has also experimented with rotations with one eye on the not-too-distant future, so it is understandable that the overall numbers have dropped of late.  

Still, the Lakers ranked first in field goal percentage and fourth for effective field goal percentage when the season was halted in March -they were 19th and 21st in those respective categories in Florida.  

Indeed, the statistics where they saw numbers increase while going 3-5 was in turnovers and opposition scoring, which jumped to 113.4 points per game (instead of 106.9 earlier in the campaign).  

LeBron James and Anthony Davis also dipped in terms of production, the latter averaging 21.6 points, way down from his previous number of 26.7, in seven outings. 

The drop in output should not raise too many alarms, particularly with both stars in the conversation to be crowned overall MVP.  

Yet the Lakers will understand the unprecedented circumstances have altered the outlook for all teams still standing, particularly as home advantage no longer exists within the bubble. 

The seedings run was fun - now it is time to get serious. Those still alive will fight it out to discover who will be crowned champions at the end of a season that will never be forgotten.

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