Fri, 02 Oct 2020

Lillard leads Portland against Nets with playoffs on the line

Field Level Media
13 Aug 2020, 08:19 GMT+10

Damian Lillard's dominance has the Portland Trail Blazers on the verge of officially clinching a postseason berth.

While Lillard might not need to score 50 or 60 points again, a win would cement the Trail Blazers in the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Portland's final regular-season game is Thursday against the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA bubble near Orlando.

"We have to come out with the same mentality," Lillard told reporters. "We control our own destiny. That's the most important game of our lives."

Portland (34-39) is competing with the Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs for the play-in series -- between seeds eight and nine -- that starts on Saturday. The Blazers are currently eighth, but remain a half-game up on Memphis and Phoenix (33-39) with San Antonio right behind at 32-38.

By the time Portland takes the floor, its competition will have completed their regular seasons. Memphis is facing Milwaukee and Phoenix is playing Dallas in games that start at 4 p.m. ET, while San Antonio tips off at 6:30 p.m. against Utah. The Blazers and Nets tip off at 9 p.m.

The Blazers are 5-2 since the resumption, and now control their own destiny in the regular-season finale. Before the five-month pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, Portland was 3.5 games out of the final postseason spot after 10 losses in 16 games before the pause.

Lillard is averaging a career-high 29.8 points overall. Inside the bubble, he is averaging 37 points while shooting 4854 percent (80-of-165) and 41.9 percent (36-of-86) from 3-point range.

Lillard tied a career-high by scoring 61 points Tuesday in a wild 134-131 win over Dallas, and that came after he piled up 51 in a three-point win over Philadelphia on Sunday. One of those shots was a dramatic 33-foot 3-pointer that clanked off the back of the rim, rose into the air and sank back into the net to forge a 130-130 tie with 89 seconds left.

He also had eight assists, including the pass to Hassan Whiteside for the go-ahead dunk with 59.1 seconds left.

"If we lose this game, we might not make it to the playoffs," Portland coach Terry Stotts "So, the magnitude of this game, even though it's in an empty gym and in a bubble ... this was the season was on the line.

Lillard is the 12th player in NBA history with consecutive 50-point point games. Lillard also joined Wilt Chamberlain as just the second player in NBA history with three 60-point games in the same season.

One of those games was Nov. 8, 2019, in Portland, when he scored 60 in a four-point loss to Brooklyn.

Brooklyn's starting five in that game was Kyrie Irving, Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert and Taurean Prince with Spencer Dinwiddie coming off the bench to score 34 points. Irving, Dinwiddie, and Prince are out and, with Brooklyn already secure the seventh seed and a meeting with the Toronto Raptors in the East playoffs, it's possible Allen (left ankle sprain), Harris (left groin contusion) and LeVert (left thigh contusion) could rest minor injuries.

The Nets are in position to rest their top three players after posting a 5-2 record during the restart, including a 129-120 win over the LA Clippers on Sunday. Brooklyn's wins also include a stunning three-point win over Milwaukee on Aug. 4 when Allen, Harris, and LeVert sat out.

With Allen, Harris, LeVert resting along with Garrett Temple, the Nets were in control most of the way Tuesday with a 108-96 win over the Orlando Magic.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has three 20-point games in the restart and scored 24 points while playing exclusively in the first and third quarters against the Magic. Jeremiah Martin also scored 24 points with 12 coming in the fourth quarter.

"We've been having a good rhythm and playing really well on both ends of the court," Luwawu-Cabarrot said. "It's really important going to the playoffs, the first round, so we stayed together."

--Field Level Media

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