The Portland Trail Blazers took another important step toward clinching a spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament Tuesday with a 134-131 victory over the Dallas Mavericks at Walt Disney World Resort.
The Trail Blazers have won two in a row and are 4-1 in their last five games after Damian Lillard led the way once again in the latest effort. They are in a heated battle for the two slots in the play-in series with the Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns but are a half-game ahead and the only one in the group with No. 0 taking over in crunch time.
Not only did he make multiple key threes down the stretch, but he also drew an offensive foul on the most important play of the game.
As for Dallas, it saw its two-game winning streak come to an end and is now locked into the Western Conference's No. 7 seed after entering play one game behind the sixth-seeded Utah Jazz.
Notable Player Stats
- Damian Lillard, G, POR: 61 PTS, 8 AST, 5 REB, 17-of-32 FG, 9-of-17 3PT
- Carmelo Anthony, F, POR: 26 PTS, 8 REB, 2 STL, 10-of-17 FG, 3-of-5 3PT
- Kristaps Porzingis, F, DAL: 36 PTS, 6 REB, 2 BLK, 12-of-17 FG, 7-of-9 3PT
- Luka Doncic, G, DAL: 25 PTS, 10 AST, 8 REB, 8-of-19 FG, 2-of-8 3PT
- Tim Hardaway Jr., G, DAL: 24 PTS, 6-of-11 FG, 3-of-8 3PT
Pressure Doesn't Faze Dame in Another Brilliant Performance
It is hard to script a more pressure-packed situation outside of an actual playoff game than the one Portland faced Tuesday.
By the second quarter, the Trail Blazers were in a four-way tie for the two play-in spots after the Spurs beat the Houston Rockets, Suns beat the Philadelphia 76ers and Grizzlies fell to the Boston Celtics. It was more of the same for Phoenix, which is 7-0 in Florida, and Memphis, which is a mere 1-6 and lost its grip on the No. 8 seed.
That meant Portland would have taken over the No. 8 spot by itself with a win and fallen behind all three teams with a loss.
The appropriate intensity was there from the start, as the Trail Blazers poured in 38 points in the first quarter alone and finished it on a 15-0 run. Lillard did what he always does, unleashing his silky smooth stroke from the outside and finding lanes to the basket when defenders pressed up on that shot.
His mere presence tilted the floor against Dallas' defense, which consistently had to pick him up nearly 30 feet from the basket and create opportunities for swing passes and open looks elsewhere. It was also all the more important because CJ McCollum struggled throughout with his shot (2-of-14 from the field).
Lillard has been completely dialed in during the seeding games with so much at stake and averaged 33 points in the first six, including his 51-point outburst against Philadelphia.
The five-time All-Star is already considered one of the best perimeter playmakers in the league and has only further cemented his status in the bubble. Portland needs one more of those performances to cement its play-in tournament spot.
Porzingis Continues to Show Mavericks More Than Luka Show
There is no questioning Luka Doncic's greatness.
The reigning Rookie of the Year runs the show for Dallas with his head-turning vision as a facilitator, ability to create angles on the way to the basket and nearly unstoppable step-back three-pointers.
He wasted no time flashing the skill set Tuesday with a step-back from way downtown and a number of impressive passes, but Dallas will need both members of its one-two punch to compete in a Western Conference playoffs that will be loaded with dynamic duos.
Kristaps Porzingis looked up to the task against Portland.
The big man established himself on the blocks in the early going and even caught Lillard in a switch before scoring easily over him. He then finished an alley-oop from Trey Burke and moved to the outside and drilled multiple threes on the way to 16 points in the first quarter alone, underscoring what a difficult individual matchup he is for any defender.
The former New York Knick has been dominant in the bubble, scoring at least 22 points in every game.
Tuesday was another notable performance, and his ability to play at his best alongside Doncic will likely determine Dallas' playoff fate.
Both teams finish their seeding-game schedule Thursday. The Mavericks face the Suns, while the Trail Blazers play the Brooklyn Nets.