Saturday's NBA: Blazers last team to make playoffs, face Lakers in opening round

Associated Press

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – A fourth consecutive down-to-the-wire finish, a fourth consecutive win for the Portland Trail Blazers.

They needed all that just to get into the playoffs.

Damian Lillard scored 31 points, CJ McCollum had 14 of his 29 in the fourth quarter – including a pair of big jumpers over Ja Morant late – and the Blazers clinched the NBA’s final playoff spot by beating the Memphis Grizzlies 126-122 on Saturday.

Portland Trail Blazers' Gary Trent Jr. (2) hugs Memphis Grizzlies' Ja Morant (12)  while Portland Trail Blazers' CJ McCollum hugs Memphis Grizzlies' Dillon Brooks (24) following  an NBA basketball game Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Portland’s reward: a matchup with the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers, starting Tuesday. Jusuf Nurkic had 22 points and 21 rebounds for the winners, who got 21 points from Carmelo Anthony.

Morant scored 35 for Memphis, which got a 22-point, 16-rebound day from Jonas Valanciunas and 20 points apiece from Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke.

It was the start, and the end, of the Western Conference play-in series – a wrinkle the NBA added to the restarted season because the coronavirus pandemic meant no team would play its allotted 82 games. Portland finished eighth in the West, Memphis was ninth, and the Grizzlies needed to sweep a two-game matchup to advance.

They had a chance, up eight in the final quarter, before Portland did what Portland does in the bubble – find a way at the end. The Blazers’ last four wins have come by a combined 11 points.

Nurkic, playing with a heavy heart because of his grandmother’s death, grabbed an offensive rebound and wound up converting a three-point play with 2:39 left to put Portland on top for good.

McCollum connected on a 3-pointer and another long jumper late, both times guarded by Morant, to ensure Portland kept the lead, and Anthony’s 3-pointer with 20.2 seconds left was the last big shot the Blazers needed.

Nurkic revealed on Instagram about 90 minutes before the game that his grandmother, back in his native Bosnia, had died. His post did not disclose the cause of death, but Nurkic said last month that she had tested positive for COVID-19 and briefly slipped into a coma in recent days.

“People don’t understand how serious this … is,” Nurkic said at the time, referring to the virus.

Nurkic had one foul in the game’s first 39 minutes.

He then committed three in a span of 19 seconds between the 8:50 and 8:31 mark of the final quarter – two of them offensive fouls, the second of those costing Portland a timeout and its challenge, which was unsuccessful.

That’s when Memphis got on its best roll, but the Grizzlies couldn’t finish it off.

Memphis led 94-89 going into the fourth quarter, the last three points in that five-point margin coming on a brilliant recovery by Morant.

The soon-to-be Rookie of the Year attacked the rim, his drive thwarted by the outstretched arms of Blazers 7-footer Hassan Whiteside. Morant, undeterred, simply ran down the loose ball and tapped it out to the right corner where Clarke connected on a 3-pointer.

Eastern Conference

Milwaukee vs. Orlando

Tuesday, Aug. 18: Milwaukee vs. Orlando, 1:30 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 20: Milwaukee vs. Orlando, 6 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 22: Milwaukee vs. Orlando, 1 p.m.

Monday, Aug. 24: Milwaukee vs. Orlando, 1:30 p.m.

x-Wednesday, Aug. 26: Milwaukee vs. Orlando, TBD

x-Friday, Aug. 28: Milwaukee vs. Orlando, TBD

x-Sunday, Aug. 30: Milwaukee vs. Orlando, TBD

Toronto vs. Brooklyn

Monday, Aug. 17: Toronto vs. Brooklyn, 4 p.m.

Wednesday, Aug. 19: Toronto vs. Brooklyn, 1:30 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 21: Toronto vs. Brooklyn, 1:30 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 23: Toronto vs. Brooklyn, 6:30 p.m.

x-Tuesday, Aug. 25: Toronto vs. Brooklyn, TBD

x-Thursday, Aug. 27: Toronto vs. Brooklyn, TBD

x-Saturday, Aug. 29: Toronto vs. Brooklyn, TBD

Boston vs. Philadelphia

Monday, Aug. 17: Boston vs. Philadelphia, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Aug. 19: Boston vs. Philadelphia, 6:30 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 21: Boston vs. Philadelphia, 6:30 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 23: Boston vs. Philadelphia, 1 p.m.

x-Tuesday, Aug. 25: Boston vs. Philadelphia, TBD

x-Thursday, Aug. 27: Boston vs. Philadelphia, TBD

x-Saturday, Aug. 29: Boston vs. Philadelphia, TBD

Miami vs. Indiana

Tuesday, Aug. 18: Miami vs. Indiana, 4 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 20: Miami vs. Indiana, 1 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 22: Miami vs. Indiana, 3:30 p.m.

Monday, Aug. 24: Miami vs. Indiana, 6:30 p.m.

x-Wednesday, Aug. 26: Miami vs. Indiana, TBD

x-Friday, Aug. 28: Miami vs. Indiana, TBD

x-Sunday, Aug. 30: Miami vs. Indiana, TBD

Western Conference

L.A. Lakers vs. Portland

Tuesday, Aug. 18: L.A. Lakers vs. Portland, 9 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 20: L.A. Lakers vs. Portland, 9 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 22: L.A. Lakers vs. Portland, 8:30 p.m.

Monday, Aug. 24: L.A. Lakers vs. Portland, 9 p.m.

x-Wednesday, Aug. 26: L.A. Lakers vs. Portland, TBD

x-Friday, Aug. 28: L.A. Lakers vs. Portland, TBD

x-Sunday, Aug. 30: L.A. Lakers vs. Portland, TBD

L.A. Clippers vs. Dallas

Monday, Aug. 17: L.A. Clippers vs. Dallas, 9 p.m.

Wednesday, Aug. 19: L.A. Clippers vs. Dallas, 9 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 21: L.A. Clippers vs. Dallas, 9 p.m.

x-Sunday, Aug. 23: L.A. Clippers vs. Dallas, 3:30 p.m.

x-Tuesday, Aug. 25: L.A. Clippers vs. Dallas, TBD

x-Thursday, Aug. 27: L.A. Clippers vs. Dallas, TBD

x-Saturday, Aug. 29: L.A. Clippers vs. Dallas, TBD

Denver vs. Utah

Monday, Aug. 17: Denver vs Utah, 1:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Aug. 19: Denver vs Utah, 4 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 21: Denver vs Utah, 4 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 23: Denver vs Utah, 9 p.m.

x-Tuesday, Aug. 25: Denver vs Utah, TBD

x-Thursday, Aug. 27: Denver vs Utah, TBD

x-Saturday, Aug. 29: Denver vs Utah, TBD

Oklahoma City vs. Houston

Tuesday, Aug. 18: Oklahoma City vs. Houston, 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 20: Oklahoma City vs. Houston, 3:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 22: Oklahoma City vs. Houston, 6 p.m.

Monday, Aug. 24: Oklahoma City vs. Houston, 4 p.m.

x-Wednesday, Aug. 26: Oklahoma City vs. Houston, TBD

x-Friday, Aug. 28: Oklahoma City vs. Houston, TBD

x-Sunday, Aug. 30: Oklahoma City vs. Houston, TBD

x-If necessary