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.

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.

Damian Lillard was proud to join illustrious company after his 61-point performance for the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday.

The guard starred as he went nine-of-17 from three-point range in a 134-131 win over the Dallas Mavericks that lifted Portland into eighth in the Western Conference.

He became just the second player to have three 60-plus point games in a single season, joining the great Wilt Chamberlain.

Lillard, 30, was delighted to join Chamberlain on that mark after his incredible performance.

"First of all, I'm happy to be in that type of company, that's an honour," he told reporters.

"I'm also happy that two of the three came in a winning effort and tonight couldn't have been better timing for that type of game.

"It's a pleasure and an honour to be in company with Wilt and hopefully it can continue."

After leading the Trail Blazers to victory, Lillard screamed out: "Put some respect on my f****** name."

Lillard, who is averaging 29.8 points, eight assists and 4.3 rebounds this season, said that was a message to his critics.

"There was just a bunch of people on that opposite side, that press row area, those are the people who usually have something to say or put out whatever they put out so it was just in that direction," he said.

Damian Lillard was determined not to let another game slip away as he bounced back from defeat to the Los Angeles Clippers with a 51-point game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Portland Trail Blazers point guard Lillard missed a pair of free throws and also a three-pointer in the closing seconds of his team's reverse to the Clippers on Saturday.

The five-time NBA All-Star then became involved in a social media spat with Clippers duo Paul George, who had waved from the bench after the finish to the game, and Patrick Beverley, but was back down to business on the court on Sunday.

His performance helped the Blazers move to within half-a-game of the eighth-placed Memphis Grizzlies - who lost to the Toronto Raptors - in the race to make the playoffs in the Western Conference.

"After the game, I was irritated with myself, I was frustrated. But it is what it is," Lillard said of Saturday's setback.

"I talked to one of my best friends and he said, 'It is what it is, this happened for a reason. You've had a lot of big moments and you usually come out on top, so you've got to expect to be some kind of balance, you've got to expect to come up against some adversity'.

"I knew we had a chance to get back on the court today, so I moved on from it faster than if it wasn't a back-to-back."

He later added during the post-match media call: "Definitely coming into tonight after yesterday, I knew how important it was to win the game. 

"We let one slip yesterday that we should have had and I'm a big part of why it got away from us. Tonight, I said that wasn't going to happen."

Lillard went 16-for-28 from the floor and hit 15 of his 16 free throws, helping the Blazers prevail 124-121 against a Philadelphia team who lost Joel Embiid during the first quarter.

"I don't think anyone thinks anything less of Dame because he missed free throws," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of Lillard's performance.

"Tonight, he showed his determination and will that he's shown throughout his career."

Portland are back in action on Tuesday, as they take on the Dallas Mavericks. 

TJ Warren overshadowed LeBron James' return as the Los Angeles Lakers slumped to a third successive NBA loss, while Luka Doncic dazzled on Saturday.

Back after a groin injury, Lakers star James had 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 35 minutes but could not stop the Indiana Pacers and their thriving small forward from claiming a 116-111 victory.

Warren, a revelation since entering the NBA bubble, continued his incredible scoring run with 39 points on 15-of-22 shooting.

In the final minute, he hit a floater, a pull-up jumper and a clutch three-pointer over Anthony Davis to earn the Pacers a fourth win from five games at Walt Disney World Resort.

All-Star guard Doncic and reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo did not disappoint in their duel, sharing 70 points between them as the Dallas Mavericks outlasted the Milwaukee Bucks 136-132 in overtime.

Doncic did the business for Dallas, delivering a decisive triple-double with 36 points, 19 assists and 14 rebounds.

 

Pain for Mitchell, better for Booker

Donovan Mitchell's nerveless 35-point performance was not enough to help the Utah Jazz avoid a 134-132 defeat to the Denver Nuggets in double overtime, a thrilling game that included 30 points and 11 rebounds from Nikola Jokic.

Devin Booker's 35 points proved more valuable for the Phoenix Suns, who beat the Miami Heat 119-112 to stay undefeated since the restart.

 

Lillard's let down

After trading taunts with the Los Angeles Clippers, Damian Lillard let his opponents have the last laugh when he wasted two clutch free throws and missed a three-point attempt late in the Portland Trail Blazers' 122-117 loss.

 

Doncic's delicious dime

The Mavericks' main man went between the legs for one of his 19 assists.

Saturday's results

Los Angeles Clippers 122-117 Portland Trail Blazers
Denver Nuggets 134-132 Utah Jazz (2OT)
Indiana Pacers 116-111 Los Angeles Lakers
Phoenix Suns 119-112 Miami Heat
Dallas Mavericks 136-132 Milwaukee Bucks (OT)

 

Trail Blazers face 76ers

Lillard and the Trail Blazers (32-39), ranked ninth in the Western Conference, know they cannot afford any errors when they face the Philadelphia 76ers (42-27) on Sunday.

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard is battling a foot injury, but head coach Terry Stotts believes the guard's issue is nothing serious.

Lillard sat out the Trail Blazers' scrimmage game against reigning NBA champions the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.

The Trail Blazers, ninth in the Western Conference, are scheduled to restart their season against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday.

Stotts believes Lillard's injury worry is not serious and hopes the star is back for Tuesday's scrimmage against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

"He did have an X-ray. The X-ray was negative. He just has some inflammation," he said, via Yahoo.

"I don't expect it to be a long-term deal. Hopefully he'll be able to play our last scrimmage.

"I think it's a little bit on the bottom of his foot, but I'm not quite sure about that, but I think it is."

Lillard was averaging 28.9 points, 7.8 assists and 4.3 rebounds before the season was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Damian Lillard is willing to play when the NBA plans to return next month even though he does not feel 100 per cent comfortable about the decision.

The NBA hopes to restart the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World Resort via a 22-team format in Orlando after the campaign was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Players are reportedly divided about the season resuming amid the COVID-19 crisis and unrest in the United States, where there have been nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

Commissioner Adam Silver admitted the league's planned resumption "may not be for everyone" but he is confident player concerns will be addressed.

Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard are among those to have questioned whether the league should return amid the Black Lives Matter protests, and Portland Trail Blazers guard Lillard understands their point of view.

"I don't feel 100 per cent, but it's a risk that I'm willing to take," Lillard said to ESPN about playing when the NBA returns.

"This is what we do. This is our job and this is how we take care of our families. And also this is my way of providing for communities, impacting in my community. 

"So, to play the game I love, to resume the season, I guess this is a risk that I'm willing to take.

"With the pandemic that we've been in over the course of a few months, I think basketball would have been or will be great for that. 

"It will be us getting back to somewhat normalcy, of having our athletes on TV playing and doing what we do.

"But I think as far as the racial injustice, I think that is where a lot of the struggle is for a lot of athletes. 

"Our league is made up of so many African-American players and a lot of our hearts are with our people, our minds are with our people and we feel like we should be a part of that fight.

"That is what the struggle is. That's what you hear in a lot of guys coming out saying maybe we should be focused on that instead of worrying about going back in and jumping into this season.

"I can only speak for myself, but I think it goes for other guys as well, we are the financial support for our families and for a lot of our community.

"We bring a lot of that financial responsibility to support black businesses and black communities. So it makes a lot of sense for us from that standpoint.

"But a lot of guys in the league have a point. I think Kyrie and Dwight have a point. You know, so I understand it all."

Five-time All Star Lillard conceded it would be a strange feeling to return after all that has happened over the past few months.

"It's something that none of us have experienced in our lifetime," he said. 

"I mean, the world literally shut down - I don't know if that's ever happened or when was the last time it did, if it has happened. But I think it'll be difficult, to say the least, because a lot of our hearts are with our people.

"So that's hard to go out there and be your best self, or the best version of yourself as an athlete, when something isn't sitting right with you personally. 

"That's something that's not just going to go away. So we're not sure how it's gonna go. But we're gonna see when we get there."

It has not been announced how the 2019-20 NBA season will be concluded if games resume, but Portland star Damian Lillard says he will not play if the Trail Blazers do not have a shot at a playoff spot.

Preliminary discussions have taken place between the NBA and the Walt Disney Company about resuming the 2019-20 season at an isolated site near Orlando, Florida in late July, but the league still has not settled on a format for a return. 

It has been reported the NBA would like teams to reach a total of 70 regular season games – about five more for most clubs – to fulfil its contracts with local broadcast affiliates.

The Trail Blazers have played 66 games, and at 29-37 they sit in ninth place in the Western Conference, three and a half games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot.

Speaking to Yahoo Sports, Lillard said: "If we come back and they're just like, 'We're adding a few games to finish the regular season,' and they're throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don't have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I'm going to be with my team because I'm a part of the team.

"But I'm not going to be participating. I'm telling you that right now.

"If we come back and I don't have an opportunity to make the playoffs, I will show up to work, I'll be at practice and I'll be with my team. I'm going to do all that and then I'm going to be sitting right on that bench during the games."

The NHL has proposed a 24-team playoff bracket, and Lillard would be open to something similar.

“If they come back and say it's something like a tournament, play-in style, between the number seven and number 12 seeds, if we're playing for playoff spots, then I think that's perfect," the five-time All-Star said.

Lillard, who is fifth in the NBA in scoring this season with a career-best 28.9 points per game, also likes Portland's chances to make a deep run if the team is the playoff picture.

The Blazers advanced to the Western Conference finals last year, and should have center Jusuf Nurkic and power forward Zach Collins in the line-up when games resume after the two combined to miss all but three games due to injuries before the season was paused.

"It would suck not to get in the playoffs because our thing was, we had fought ourselves back into position to get a spot," Lillard said.

"We had our starting center and starting power forward coming back, so we had a lot to look forward to and for a great reason. Now, they're healthy and have extra time to train and rehab while everybody's rusty.

"So now, they won't be coming back as the only rusty players. And if everybody's rusty, we can come in here and beat everybody.”

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