“This one is, I would say, a great loss for us,” Mavs center Kristaps Porzingis said after his 39-point, 16-rebound performance in their opener of the seeding schedule for the NBA restart in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. “We have to take lessons from this game. We have to look at the film and see what we could have done better at the end to close out the game. That’s it. I feel like we have to take the positive of this tough loss that we had and try to learn from it.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Porzingis has made similar statements after some of the Mavs’ late-game failures this season. Those have been a troubling trend for Dallas, which blew an opportunity to put itself on the heels of Houston, increasing the odds that the Mavs will stay in the Western Conference’s seventh seed and face the LA Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.
Statistically, the Mavs feature the most efficient offense in NBA history, which was on display as Dallas torched the Rockets for 119 points through three quarters. However, the Mavs’ offense has sputtered miserably all season in clutch situations, averaging only 92.9 points per 100 possessions when the score is within five points in the final five minutes of regulation or overtime. That ranks 29th in the league, ahead of only the bubble-excluded Detroit Pistons.
That’s the primary reason the Mavs have a 14-22 record (.389) in games that fit the clutch designation. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, only the 2011-12 Philadelphia 76ers have had a worse clutch winning percentage among teams with plus-.500 records over the past 20 years.
“We’re a young team. We’ve got a lot to learn,” said Mavs point guard Luka Doncic, who finished with 28 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists but struggled in the fourth quarter and overtime, when he was 2-of-8 from the floor with three of his eight turnovers. “We’ll get better for sure. I know we’re going to get together when it matters most in the playoffs, so I’m not worried about that.”
It required some extraordinary developments for the Rockets — who got a combined 80 points from superstars James Harden and Russell Westbrook, their most as teammates — to escape The Arena on the Walt Disney World campus with a win.
Houston trailed by seven with 45 seconds to go in regulation. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, teams had been 2-711 when trailing by seven or more in the final minute of regulation entering Friday.
“We kept telling ourselves that we’re built for it,” said Harden, who had 49 points on 14-of-20 shooting, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. “We’re going to play four quarters. We have legs to be able to push through [and] mental toughness.”
The Rockets, who trailed by 13 early in the fourth quarter, finished regulation with an 8-1 run that started when Harden hit a 32-foot 3-pointer. After Doncic missed a long 3 as the shot clock was ticking down, Rockets forward Robert Covington got fouled and made both free throws. Mavs guard Seth Curry split a pair of free throws, keeping it a one-possession game.
After a timeout, the Mavs intentionally fouled Harden after he received the inbounds pass near half court, wanting to keep him from being able to attempt a 3-pointer. There was some controversy about whether Dorian Finney-Smith fouled Harden before he started his shooting motion, but the referees ruled that the foul occurred on the floor, sending Harden to the line for two free throws, not three, with 3.9 seconds remaining.
Harden made the first and missed the second, but Covington slithered past a boxout by Mavs forward Maxi Kleber to the other side of the basket for a tip-in in traffic to tie the score. The game went into overtime when Doncic airballed another 3, an ugly end to a 20-point quarter for Dallas.
“A lot of this stuff comes down to details,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “Look, I’ll take full responsibility for the loss. I want to keep the pressure off the players. They really played their butts off, but we were unable to make some key plays that we needed to make.”
Harden scored seven of his 49 points in overtime to help the Rockets put the game away.
“We willed our way to that win,” said Westbrook, who had 31 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists. “We went and took that game. They thought they had it, and we went and took it away.”
The Rockets had that opportunity because the Mavs’ offense got stuck in the mud in the fourth quarter.
Dallas shot 57.4% from the floor, including 17-of-30 from 3-point range, through three quarters. But the Mavs bogged down in the fourth, going 7-of-28 from the floor, and made matters worse by missing four of their seven free throws in the frame.
“I think we should have stayed more offensive-minded, the way we were the whole game,” Porzingis said. “At the end, we tried to slow it down, and the pressure was up obviously. We tried to slow it down and kind of just cruise and win the game. Or maybe not to lose the game.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, James Harden listed as finalists for NBA MVP
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, four-time winner LeBron James and 2018 MVP James Harden headline the list of finalists for the NBA’s six major individual awards, all of which were announced Saturday afternoon.
Antetokounmpo, James and Harden were the three finalists for MVP, with the finalists for each of the six awards — MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year — being determined based off voting results from a panel of sports writers and broadcasters from across the globe.
Antetokounmpo, the heavy favorite to win the MVP award for a second consecutive year, also has a chance to join Hakeem Olaujuwon and Michael Jordan as the only players to win both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. The other two finalists for that award were Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert and Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis.
If Gobert wins, he would join Dwight Howard as the only players to have won the award in three consecutive seasons.
Three first-time All-Stars this season — Bam Adebayo, Luka Doncic and Brandon Ingram — were all named finalists for the league’s Most Improved Player award, while the top two picks in last year’s NBA Draft — New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson and Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant — were named as two of the three finalists for Rookie of the Year, along with undrafted guard Kendrick Nunn from the Miami Heat.
LA Clippers guard Lou Williams, who has been named Sixth Man of the Year three times — including each of the past two seasons — is a finalist for the award yet again, and is joined by teammate Montrezl Harrell and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dennis Schroder. Williams and Jamal Crawford are the only three-time recipients of the award.
Last year’s selection for Coach of the Year, Mike Budenholzer of the Milwaukee Bucks, also was nominated again, as was Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse and Thunder coach Billy Donovan. Budenholzer would tie Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich and Don Nelson as the only coaches to have won the award three different times with another victory.
In recent years, the NBA has shifted away from presenting all of its awards individually during the playoffs, as it always did, in favor of having a single awards show on TNT after the season was over. Because of the unusual circumstances this season has presented, however, the league will be shifting back to the old format and announcing award winners during the league’s restart inside the NBA’s bubble here at the Walt Disney World Resort.
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After a career game on Thursday against the Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers reserve wing Gary Trent Jr. sat on a stool a day later in front of a widescreen TV doing his media Zoom, talking about his development, his improvement, his progression, his confidence. It was an extended media session for Trent, and eventually, Damian Lillard started growing impatient.
“Last question,” a voice said off-screen.
Trent turned and laughed, and as the question came in, Lillard’s tattooed right arm sidled into view on the edge of the screen. Trent gave a short answer, which merited a quick follow-up, and now Lillard leaned in and pointed at the camera.
“Last question,” he said. “The bus is waiting for me.”
Trent hopped up and Lillard sat down, ready to go. He wasn’t wasting any time. Which has been his mentality with everything in the NBA’s Florida restart.
Portland’s focus from the beginning of training camp was to hit the ground running. Players said it in every media availability, particularly Lillard. No easing into it, figuring things out, feeling their way through the oddities of empty gyms and awkward accommodations. Once the games started, it was go time.
Lillard had his best seeding game against the Nuggets, a 45-point masterpiece that featured 11 3-pointers, tied for a career high. It was quintessential Lillard: everything in balance, in rhythm and in range. Pull-ups from 35-plus feet dragged defenders to pickup points by midcourt, opening the floor for him to drive and kick, and for teammates to find opportunities.
Portland got results from the jump, going 3-1 to not only hold on to the 9-seed in the Western Conference playoff picture but threaten Memphis for the 8. Lillard had to grind early, averaging 26.6 points in the first three games but on just 39% shooting from the field and 30% from 3. He said the ball felt like it was coming off his hand just right and that it should’ve been going in more. It just wasn’t. That never fazes Lillard.
This is what Lillard can do — and really, consistently does. He’s as unstoppable an offensive player as anyone in the league, stretching defenses to their absolute limits while toeing the appropriate line between gunner and general.
The effortless long-distance scoring drops jaws and raises brows, but with a healthy group around him featuring more weapons, Lillard is averaging 11.3 assists. Center Jusuf Nurkic has rediscovered his pick-and-roll chemistry with Lillard immediately, power forward Zach Collins is protecting the rim, and small forward Carmelo Anthony is back in his old position, spotting up and providing complementary scoring.
“I feel like we might’ve been in the Finals last year if we had him,” Lillard said of Anthony. “Just another person out there that when we’re getting trapped and double-teamed that they have to account for and respect, but it is what it is.”
Lillard acknowledged Thursday that this Trail Blazers team can’t lean on being the team that was in the Western Conference finals last season, because with a subpar season — the context of injuries included — they haven’t earned it on the floor.
But they are healthy now. They’re deeper. And with Lillard, as the saying goes, he’s in range the minute he steps into the gym. Which, right now, with a push toward the playoffs and a dangerous look about them for whoever draws them, so are the Trail Blazers. — Royce Young
Here’s the latest on the standings, the games to watch Saturday and Sunday, and everything you need to know. Check back for highlights and updates throughout the day.
No Kawhi for Clippers on Saturday
LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard is sitting out Saturday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers due to knee soreness. Leonard has missed 13 games this season prior to Saturday, but had played in all four of LA’s seeding games. The Clippers are on a back-to-back, as they’re slated to take on the Brooklyn Nets Sunday night. Full story »
Saturday’s must-see games
After losing to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, the Clippers got back on track by beating the Dallas Mavericks — their likely quarterfinals opponent — on Thursday behind 29 points from Kawhi Leonard. Portland, meanwhile, will be looking to knock off yet another surefire playoff team in the West after beating the Houston Rockets on Tuesday and the Denver Nuggets on Thursday. The Trail Blazers continue their push for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. — Tim Bontemps
Utah Jazz vs. Denver Nuggets | 3:30 p.m. ET
Denver will be hoping to get closer to full strength, as the Nuggets have played each of their first four games — which they split — with starters Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton all sitting out because of injuries. Harris and Barton are still out, while Murray is questionable. Utah, on the other hand, will be playing the second half of a back-to-back set after it opened Friday’s slate of games with a loss to the San Antonio Spurs. — Bontemps
The Eastern Conference playoff teams are set and there will be no East play-in game next weekend after the Washington Wizards were officially eliminated Friday.
In the Western Conference, only two games Saturday involve bubble teams. The Sacramento Kings don’t play, but they will be the next team eliminated if the Portland Trail Blazers can defeat the LA Clippers. And the Phoenix Suns, the last team without a loss in Florida, will look to keep the positive vibes going against the Miami Heat.
8. Memphis Grizzlies | 33-37 (.471) | —
9. Portland Trail Blazers | 32-38 (.457) | 1.0 GB
10. San Antonio Spurs | 30-38 (.441) | 2.0 GB
11. New Orleans Pelicans | 30-39 (.435) | 2.5 GB
12. Phoenix Suns | 30-39 (.435) | 2.5 GB
13. Sacramento Kings | 29-40 (.420) | 3.5 GB
Sunday’s must-see games
It was a first for both teams on Friday in the bubble — Memphis picked up its first win, while Toronto was dealt its first loss. The Grizzlies earned a much-needed victory over Oklahoma City to hold on to eighth place in the Western Conference playoff race. On the other hand, the Raptors dropped their first game to Boston in their largest loss of the season.
Because of the quirks with seeding-game scheduling and the end of the regular season, this is the only meeting between Memphis and Toronto this season. Both teams will be wearing their classic uniforms for this game: Toronto in its original dino jerseys and Memphis with its teal Vancouver jerseys. — Andrew Lopez
These two teams have met only once this season: Zion Williamson‘s debut on Jan. 22. Despite Williamson’s 17-point outburst in a 3-minute, 8-second stretch in the fourth quarter, San Antonio held on for a 121-117 victory. Originally, the teams were set to play three times over the final 14 games, including the regular-season finale. Instead, this is their only matchup on the NBA campus.
San Antonio is making a push for a playoff spot, while the Pelicans are just happy to be in the race after dropping three of their first four games in Florida. Williamson, who did not play against the Wizards on Friday on the second night of a back-to-back set, is expected to be available against San Antonio.
Without guard Ben Simmons on Friday, Philadelphia seemingly sleepwalked through three quarters against Orlando before pulling away for a victory in the fourth quarter against a Magic squad that was missing Aaron Gordon (hamstring) and Jonathan Isaac (ACL). Philadelphia has been up and down in the bubble despite coming away with a 3-1 record — picking up a win over San Antonio despite a furious Spurs comeback, a single-digit win over Washington and then the victory over Orlando.
Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are continuing their push to make the playoffs and turn up the pressure on the Grizzlies for the eighth seed. Portland will be playing the second game of a back-to-back. At the very least, Portland is putting itself in the right spot for the inevitable play-in tournament in the West.
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Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (knee soreness) won’t play against Trail Blazers Saturday
The Clippers’ game against the Blazers is the first in a back-to-back set. Leonard has sat out one game during back-to-backs this season to manage soreness in his left knee.
The team says Leonard will play on Sunday night against the Brooklyn Nets. The Clippers were already shorthanded entering Saturday’s game without Patrick Beverley (left calf strain) and Montrezl Harrell, who is not with the team as he mourns the loss of his grandmother.
Sitting out Saturday’s game allows Leonard to have two days of rest prior to playing against the Nets and then another two days off after the Nets game. After Sunday’s second of a back-to-back, the Clippers (46-22) play on Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets (45-24).
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