Lillard blazes trail to play-offs

Guard's career-best 61pts 'shows resolve' and gives Portland fighting chance for last berth

MIAMI • Damian Lillard had a mission he wanted to complete at the ESPN Wide World of Sports as the National Basketball Association (NBA) season resumed late last month - to make the play-offs.

"Ain't nothing I want more," the Portland Trail Blazers point guard told ESPN. "When I came here (to Disney World) I told them I'm not here to waste my time. Our work ain't done yet."

He exploded for 61 points on Tuesday as the Trail Blazers roared towards a place in the NBA play-offs with a thrilling 134-131 win over the Dallas Mavericks.

Lillard - who had scored 51 points in a victory against the Philadelphia 76ers last Sunday - once again led from the front for Portland, who are now within touching distance of a post-season berth.

A win against the Brooklyn Nets today lands Portland in the play-in game this weekend.

The best-of-two series between the eighth-and ninth-place finishers in the conference is for when it is no longer possible for more than a four-game difference in the standings between the two teams.

As it stands, Portland (34-39) are eighth in the Western Conference, while the Memphis Grizzlies (33-39) are ninth. The eighth seed will need to win one game in the series to advance to the play-offs.

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

His 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 the legendary 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 added.

"It's an honour to be in company with Wilt. Hopefully it'll continue."

Portland coach Terry Stotts said his guard has been extra focused since he missed two late free throws in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.

Portland guard Damian Lillard going for a shot despite the close attention of Dallas forward Maxi Kleber (left) and other players. The Blazers won 134-131.
Portland guard Damian Lillard going for a shot despite the close attention of Dallas forward Maxi Kleber (left) and other players. The Blazers won 134-131. PHOTO: REUTERS

  • 2

    Damian Lillard is the second NBA player to score 60 or more points in three games in a single season.

  • Teams - Portland, Memphis, Phoenix and San Antonio - are still in contention to claim a place in the play-in game for the last play-off berth in the Western Conference.

"He's showing a lot of resolve," Stotts said. "Nobody wanted to come into this bubble and make the play-offs more than Dame. His leadership and his game speaks for itself. He's bringing the team along with him."

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.

His 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 (43-31), 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.

Tuesday's combination of results elsewhere left everything to play for heading into the final round of seeding games today, with Portland, Memphis, the Phoenix Suns (33-39) and the San Antonio Spurs (32-38) still mathematically in with a chance of claiming eighth or ninth place.

Phoenix's unbeaten streak inside the Orlando "bubble" stretched to seven games after a 130-117 win over a severely depleted Sixers side. The win, combined with San Antonio's 123-105 victory over Houston and Memphis's 122-107 defeat by 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 today.

On Tuesday, Giannis Antetokounmpo was ejected in the second quarter for head-butting Moritz Wagner in the Bucks' 126-113 victory over the Washington Wizards. He could face a one-game suspension.

Phoenix take on the Mavericks today. An eighth win against Dallas, and a Grizzlies loss to the Bucks, would put the Suns into the play-in round.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2020, with the headline 'Lillard blazes trail to play-offs'. Print Edition | Subscribe