In addition, injury issues continued to plague an Eastern Conference contender, and an All-Star guard rebounded in a major way after a disappointing performance on Saturday. Here are four takeaways from Sunday’s NBA action.
1. Pelicans and Kings eliminated from playoff competition
The New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings playoff hopes ended Sunday. With the Trail Blazers’ victory over the 76ers, both teams were officially eliminated from the playoffs. The four teams still in contention for the final playoff spot in the West are the Grizzlies, Blazers, Spurs and Suns.
The Grizzlies still have a slim lead in the race for the eighth, but those three teams are two games away from Memphis with a few games left for each team. According to ESPN, the Grizzlies have a 62 percent chance of getting the final seed in the playoff picture. Whichever team ends up clinching last place in the West will face LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers, who were seeded in the conference last week.
2. Guaranteed Western Conference play-in streak
With their 108-99 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, the Grizzlies ensured that a play-in series would take place. In order to trigger such a series, the ninth-seeded team in the conference must finish in all four of the eighth-seeded games when the ranking list is complete. It’s mathematically guaranteed that this will happen now.
The idea of a play-in series for last place in a conference was added by the NBA ahead of the season restart. The idea behind the series was to give the Chase teams a fair opportunity to compete for the spot even though they wouldn’t have the full 82-game slate to do so. In the series, the eighth-seeded team will need to win only once to claim the final place in the conference playoffs, while the ninth-seeded team will need to win two in a row before the eighth team only wins once.
3. Dame Time
Dame Lillard had an unusually disengaged moment on Saturday, as she missed two free throws in the dying moments of Portland’s game against the Clippers, and as a result, the Blazers lost the game. The loss was especially hard to swallow considering the Blazers are battling for a playoff berth. Lillard made up for it on Sunday, however, as he went absolutely nuclear against the Sixers and, in turn, led the Blazers to a much-needed victory. Lillard finished the game with 51 points and seven assists. It was the 10th 50-point performance of his career and the fifth this season.
When Lillard does it like he did on Sunday night, it’s almost impossible to stop, and ultimately the Sixers were downright unable to do so. Lillard appears determined to give Portland the best possible chance of qualifying for the playoffs, so don’t be surprised if he has another huge game before the league’s ranking list is finished.
4. The injured keep hitting 76ers
The Sixers can’t seem to get a break in Orlando. Earlier this week, it was announced that forward Ben Simmons will be leaving the bubble for knee surgery, and he is set to miss the rest of the season as a result. So the Sixers started their game against the Blazers on Sunday night with an All-Star already, and in the first quarter of the game, they lost their other All-Star. After awkwardly landing under the basket, Joel Embiid left the game and did not return. Instead, he was ruled out due to an injury to his left ankle. Embiid finally returned to the Philadelphia sidelines, and he appeared to be in good spirits. The Sixers haven’t had an update on Embiid after the game, but an update on his status will likely be provided in the near future. Clearly, the Sixers are hoping to regain their centerpiece before the playoffs start on August 17.