LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. >> Damian Lillard sent Portland into the NBA’s first play-in series with 42 more points and a crucial steal, helping the Trail Blazers escape with a 134-133 victory over the Brooklyn Nets tonight.
The Trail Blazers secured the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference only after Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert, who scored 37 points, missed a jumper just before time expired. Portland will play ninth-seeded Memphis on Saturday. If the Grizzlies win, the deciding game would be Sunday.
The winner of the play-in series gets the final spot in the West and a first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Portland came into the day in eighth place, but would have fallen out of playoff position with a loss, thanks to victories earlier Thursday by Memphis and Phoenix. Had the Blazers lost, the Suns would have inched ahead of them into ninth.
But Lillard wouldn’t let the Blazers fall, following his games of 51 and 61 points in the previous two games not only with more sensational scoring but also with a huge defensive play.
He chased down LeVert for a steal with Portland clinging to a two-point lead with 1:12 to play, setting up CJ McCollum’s free throws that made it 134-130. LeVert came back with a three-point play and had a chance to win it after Carmelo Anthony missed a 3-pointer, but his jumper was off.