NBA

Lillard's Trail Blazers pip Suns to play-in game, Spurs miss playoffs for first time in 23 years

By Sports Desk August 13, 2020

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.

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    Murray starred with 28 points, 12 assists and two late three-pointers to earn the Nuggets a 114-106 victory in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals in Florida.

    That hard-fought victory came on the back of a buzzer-beating loss in Game 2, which saw Anthony Davis hit a last-gasp three-pointer to win it for the Lakers.

    But having also showed real character to outlast the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference semi-finals, Murray is determined to peg back the Lakers at 2-2 on Thursday.

    "We had Game 2. I thought we played great in Game 2, we just had a couple of moments that really hurt us," he told reporters. "So we feel like we should be up 2-1 right now." 

    "We have to move on to Game 4 now. In the Clippers series we dropped Game 3, so we have to take care of stuff that we can control. We've got to do that if we want to win."  

    The Lakers entered the game on a six-game winning run and closed to within three points of Denver in the final quarter, only for their opponents to pull away.

    "We're in this series," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the vital win.

    "We let them know we're not going anywhere. That's what you guys have done this whole post-season.

    "That's why everybody is rooting for us. Keep on showing that grit and resilience and playing for each other."

    James led the Lakers with a 26th career triple-double, which included 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, but the Lakers star conceded the better team won on the day.

    "We turned the ball over too much and we put them on the free-throw line," he said.

    "I give credit where credit is due. They played better than us. They were more aggressive than us for three quarters."

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    Los Angeles Lakers star James has been a prominent voice in the fight for racial justice, which intensified following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota in May and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin last month.

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    He said: "I've never in my 35 years ever condoned violence, never have, but I also know what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong and I grew up in the inner city in a black community.

    "I've seen a lot of counts first hand of a lot of black people being racially profiled because of our colour.

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    The Nuggets looked on track to cruise to victory in the third showdown, having taken a 93-75 lead through three quarters at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

    But LeBron James – who tallied a triple-double – and the top-seeded Lakers reeled off a stunning 19-2 run and forced six successive turnovers to close within 101-98 with less than four minutes remaining on Tuesday.

    Veteran guard Rajon Rondo was instrumental in the Lakers' fightback courtesy of three steals against the stuttering Nuggets.

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    All-Star big man Jokic posted 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and Jerami Grant had a playoff career-high 26 points to help the Nuggets avoid a 3-0 hole.

    James led the Lakers with his 26th career triple-double, which included 30 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, while Anthony Davis – the last-gasp hero in Game 2 – had 27 points.

     

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