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To understand the race of participation in the West, keep an eye on the stars

It cannot rather This is simple, and I will grant that. But to a greater degree than any other team sport, basketball is a game where its outcome can be tilted and the shape can be altered by one player. And in the Western Conference’s race for the eighth playoff place – a sprint that still includes four teams when it comes to the home phase and that will be decided by when they all come on Thursday – those are The team with the stars clearing the game is speeding up and looking to quit their competition in the dust.

Nobody Orlando is hitting the accelerator quite like Damian Lillard. Before the NBA started again, the five-time All-Star star made it clear that he was not interested in getting in unless his Trail Blazers had a real chance to win the post-season entryway. With eight “seeding games”

; and the possibility of having a series of play-in games across the board, Lillard asked his teammates for just a present at the makeshift party to celebrate his 30th birthday in bubble: “Don’t waste our damn time here.”

They do not have. Portland has won five out of seven games on a restart, with two defeats coming with a total of 9 points against the Celtics and the hopeful Clippers champions. In the match against LA, Lillard missed two free throws that could give Portland a lead with 18 seconds remaining, and a 3-point-left miss nine ticks would tie it; This has spurred all sorts of giggles, bullshit and sniper behavior on social media. It also prompted a return of fire and brimstone by Lillard, who dropped 51 injured Sixers on Sunday to keep Blazers afloat, and then later sixty one—Mark best performance of his season and career, and top TJ Warren for the top score on the Balloons – to beat the Mavericks and put Portland past Memphis for single place eight:

As has been his routine, Lillard has completely destroyed Dallas pick-and-roll coverage, consistently entering 3s off-the-dribbles whenever he sees an inch. space. When the Mavericks defenders stepped out of him, he passed them to enter the paint to turn around, pass the ball to his big men or get in touch to get on the line. Dame had every shot in her pocket on Tuesday, finishing 17 for 32 from the floor, 9 giving 17 from the 3-point range and perfect 18 for 18 from the charity stripe to go with eight assists against three turnover in 41 minutes. He used them all when Portland needed them the most too, scoring or assisting 30 out of 36 points in the Blazers fourth half before finishing off Dallas with an early-match attacking foul against Trey Burke the Mavericks reserve.

Well, Gary Trent Jr was a 3-and-D revelation, and yes, Carmelo Anthony turned the clock back, and yes, Jusuf Nurkic was all Portland could ask for when he got back in post-shock. love. But Blazers now find themselves in the playoff position for the first time since early January because Lillard – leading the bubble in minutes to score and minutes, third in assists – has done so. thanks to absolute will.

While Lillard burned his superstar trust, Devin Booker – Dame’s toughest rivalry for the Bubble MVP – solidified herself for the first time, in season-end matches with real stakes.

Despite missing out on six of his first nine shots in a slow start for the Suns against a team of 76ers who missed the full five starting due to injury or rest, Booker has brought Phoenix back into the game. playing in the second quarter honing him in the second quarter match, Philly’s rookie Matisse Thybulle was gifted in a foul play and self-paced. After the break, Booker was broken, scoring 21 of his game’s top 35 points after the break, including an incredibly powerful throw directly into Furkan Korkmaz and Norvel’s cup. Pelle:

The All-Star keeper also made six assists in the second half, leveraging all the attention he drew from the Sixers defenders to maneuver the box and set up his teammates. Him for easy catch and shoot chances and high percentages:

Booker didn’t push through during his slow start, let the game come to him, patiently put his teammates away, worked on all three levels to figure out his shot, and in the end burying the opponent. With a final echo in Phoenix’s 130-117 win, Booker turned his shaky start into another monster show: 35 points on 11 to 24 shots, 9 rebounds and 7 assists with only 2 turns in 41 minutes. It was his fifth 30-point match in Orlando, and his third straight match reaching 35 points; Only Lillard, James Harden and Luka Doncic scored more goals in bubble than Booker, who also averaged 6.1 dimes a game and shot less than 50% from the field to lead Phoenix to seven straight wins. That sequence, the longest in more than a decade of the franchise, features the Suns with an eighth-place game of Blazers, antiquated with Memphis.

The Grizzlies free fall continued on Tuesday with 15 points glued under the hands of the powerful Celtics, their sixth loss in seven attempts in the bubble. Memphis has no defensive answers for Jayson Tatum (29 points after only 13 shots) or a Kemba Walker looking healthy again, and Grizz continues to struggle to create void and create quality assets with Linchpin’s big man Jaren Jackson Jr. and ace Reserve scorer Tyus Jones has just been injured. But Ja Morant fights the death of light in a performance that reminds you why he’s about to win a landslide Rookie of the Year:

Morant bobbed and pierced the Celtics defense, deep into their control and either moved to the perimeter, to the free-throw line, or into enough space to execute beneficial passes. He also dug into the defense, doing his best to get into the pass lanes, wreaking havoc on some parts of Boston, and trying to give a chance to end Celtic’s possession so that Memphis could come out. out and run. The freshman finished with 26 points out of 13 shots, 13 assists, four rebounds, two tackles and one stealing ball; he made it go 100 miles an hour and in style, but he still fell short, and the Grizzlies dropped in the rankings as a result.

While the novice was a bit shy, an old head – relatively, at least – made Spurs barely recognizable in the match for a main kick.

Anachronistic although it may be in the era of outstanding attackers from two steps on half a pitch, DeMar DeRozan’s unrivaled foot movement and mid-range mastery is what he is. inquire for San Antonio. DeRozan continued to shine as a powerful striker during Spurs’ small ball reboot against a Rockets team playing without Harden, scoring 23 points in a 9 to 13 shoot series with six rebounds, four assists and twice steals in the score 123-105 win over Houston. Whether working in a curled fashion, without a happy ending or dealing with isolation, the 31-year-old is finding creases in defense, getting in his position and advancing for a tough high score. Contest that – release the jumper. Only Lillard scored more points in the fourth half in the bubble than DeMar, who scored 10 to 12 (83.3%) on “clutch” attempts made when the score was five points apart in The last five minutes; As the match ended at the end of the game, Gregg Popovich knew he could put the ball in DeRozan’s hands and was confident the man would give his team the lead.

After a 5-2 start in the bubble, Spurs now have that opportunity; they were halfway behind eighth place Portland, and were only a thousand points behind Memphis and Phoenix as they entered the final day of the seed match. With all four teams still alive, there’s still enough permutation and combinations for playable matches to keep you reeling. Each team’s relative level of commitment can also play an important role: Memphis will play a team of ready-made Bucks. 1 seed overall and that may not be Giannis Antetokounmpo, if the tournament suspends him for a match against Moe Wagner on Tuesday; Spurs will face Jazz, which appears to be taking on a cat-and-mouse game in the midst of the Western rankings to avoid another playoff game against Houston; The Suns will face off against the Mavs, who appear to be ticketed for their first meeting with the Clippers; Blazers face off against the Nets, who seem to have nothing to play with but continue to play their tricks the same.

For all that has been settled, there is still a lot to learn in this surprisingly thrilling race at the bottom of the West, and its adoption seems incredibly complicated. However, if the past two weeks have taught us anything, it could be with only the best players, betting they will push their team to the finish line. Dame is that friend. Booker proves he deserves a look in that company. DeRozan has more playoff experience than any of his opponents, and Ja is just young enough not to know that he has to be scared of moments like these. There is only one game left, which star appears when the light is brightest and the money on the table can take back that day. It cannot rather very simple. However, sometimes that is the case.

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