|Blazers still battling for postseason as they face Mavs|
The stretch run of the seeding round in the NBA's Orlando-area bubble comes with significant playoff implications for the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks, who meet on Tuesday.
Dallas (43-30) pulled within a game of the Utah Jazz for the Western Conference's No. 6 seed on Monday, beating Utah head-to-head, 122-114. The Mavericks were without Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, two of the team's top performers in the bubble thus far.
Doncic sat due to an ankle injury, while Porzingis was scratched with a left knee injury. Their statuses for Tuesday are not yet known.
In the meantime, the trio of Tim Hardaway Jr., Seth Curry and Boban Marjanovic picked up the slack -- particularly in the second half when the Mavericks outscored the Jazz, 68-44.
"Second half, we moved it better, we defended better, our energy was up," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said in his postgame teleconference. "They pulled their starters, and I'm not going to overlook that as a factor in the game. But our brand of basketball in the second half was more like playoff basketball, and that's where it needs to be."
Hardaway scored 27 points and Curry added 22, with the two shooting a combined 7-of-12 from 3-point range. Marjanovic chipped in 20 points.
The win pulled Dallas to .500 since the NBA returned to competition from the COVID-19 hiatus. With two games remaining in the seeding round, the Mavericks can play their way into a playoff spot as high as No. 5. They trail Oklahoma City by 1.5 games after the Thunder's loss Monday to Phoenix.
Portland (33-39) heads into its last stretch of the seeding round in its own playoff chase. The Trail Blazers enter play Tuesday just a half-game behind Memphis for the Western Conference's No. 8 seed, well-positioned to force a play-in for the final postseason berth.
The Trail Blazers must hold off their own chasers, though, with the Spurs and red-hot Suns both a half-game behind.
Portland bolstered its prospects on Sunday with a 124-121 defeat of Philadelphia. Sunday's decision marked a needed rebound for the Trail Blazers after losing a testy 122-117 game Saturday to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Damian Lillard missed two free throws late against the Clippers, prompting a mocking goodbye wave from Paul George. Lillard retorted it was a show of "respect" after Lillard's long 3-pointer to close out a first-round playoff series last year ended the postseason for George and his then-Oklahoma City teammates.
If Lillard was at all fazed, it didn't show Sunday. He scored 51 points to tie his second-highest output of the 2019-20 season, and shot 15-of-16 from the foul line.
"He asks a lot of himself, and his teammates expect a lot of him, as well," Portland coach Terry Stotts said in his postgame press conference on Sunday. "When he says something, they listen. They try and do what he says.
"As a coach, when your best player's your best leader," Stotts added. "It makes everybody's job a lot easier."
Lillard scored 47 points in his last meeting with Dallas on Jan. 23, but a 27-point, nine-assist and six-rebound effort from Doncic scored the Mavericks a 133-125 win.
--Field Level Media