Portland, Memphis, Phoenix, San Antonio in the hunt for playoff seats
ORLANDO — Damian Lillard exploded for 61 points on Tuesday as the Portland Trail Blazers roared towards a place in the NBA playoffs with a thrilling 134-131 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
Lillard — who had scored 51 points in a victory against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday — once again led from the front for Portland, who are now within touching distance of a postseason berth.
The Blazers talisman nailed a clutch three-pointer in the closing stages to level the score at 130-130 and then provided the assist that saw Portland take a 132-130 lead with just under a minute remaining.
The win vaulted Portland above the Memphis Grizzlies into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings with 34 wins and 39 defeats.
The eighth- and ninth-placed teams in the West will advance to an elimination game this weekend to determine who claims the final postseason berth from the conference.
Tuesday’s combination of results elsewhere left everything to play for heading into the final round of seeding games on Thursday, with Portland, Memphis, the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs still mathematically in with a chance of claiming eighth or ninth place.
Portland, however, remain in the driving seat. A win on Thursday against the Brooklyn Nets will assure them of a place in the play-in game.
Lillard’s 61-point effort made him only the second player in NBA history to score 60 points or more in three games during a single season, putting him alongside Wilt Chamberlain.
“I’m happy to be in that kind of company, and I’m happy that two of those three (60-point games) came in a winning effort,” Lillard said.
“Tonight couldn’t have been better timing for that type of game. It’s an honor to be in company with Wilt. Hopefully it can continue.”
Lillard’s latest masterclass was complemented with 26 points from veteran Carmelo Anthony, while Zach Collins and Gary Trent Jr. had 11 points each.
For the Mavericks, Kristaps Porzingis led the scoring with 36 points, while Luka Doncic added 25 with 10 assists and eight rebounds. Tim Hardaway Jr scored 24 points with four rebounds.
Elsewhere Tuesday, Phoenix’s unbeaten streak inside the Orlando “bubble” stretched to seven games after yet another high-scoring display from Devin Booker in a victory over Philadelphia.
Booker scored 35 points in a 130-117 win over a severely depleted Sixers side missing Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
It was Booker’s fifth 30-point scoring display in seven games since the NBA restarted its season in Orlando.
The Suns’ win, combined with San Antonio’s 123-105 victory over Houston and Memphis’s 122-107 defeat to the Boston Celtics, leaves the race for the eighth and ninth places on a knife edge.
The Grizzlies, who have lost six of their seven games since the league restarted, face the Eastern Conference top seeds Milwaukee in their final game on Thursday.
Phoenix, who have won all seven of their games since the restart, take on the Dallas Mavericks. An eighth win against Dallas, and a Grizzlies loss against the Bucks, would put the Suns into the play-in round.
Even if Phoenix win on Thursday to make it eight wins out of eight, they could still be eliminated depending on results elsewhere.
“We know we’re not totally in control of our fate but we’ve put ourselves in a good position,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said after Tuesday’s win.
“Nobody would have guessed that the Phoenix Suns would be in this position before this started.
“Our guys have just battled, and executed, and made the plays necessary to give us a chance.”
Booker, meanwhile, insists Phoenix will be satisfied even if they don’t reach the playoffs.
“That’s life, man,” Booker said. “We’re controlling what we can control and that’s the eight games we play in.
“I’m proud of my guys regardless. We came in with the right mindset. We locked in and made the sacrifices we had to make.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any sad faces around here, whether we make the playoffs or not.”