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Nets battle to finish, fall to Trail Blazers

The Nets' Caris LeVert falls down after inadvertently

The Nets' Caris LeVert falls down after inadvertently getting hit in the face by the Trail Blazers' Jusuf Nurkic during the first half of an NBA game on Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Credit: AP/Ashley Landis

The game meant nothing to the Nets and everything to the Trail Blazers, who were fighting for their playoff lives. But the Nets put an incredible scare into Portland before Caris LeVert missed a 20-foot jumper at the buzzer in a tense, well-played 134-133 loss Thursday night at Disney World in Orlando.

After leading by 10 points late in the third quarter, the Nets saw the Trail Blazers put together a 12-4 fourth-quarter burst to take a 112-111 led on a pair of CJ McCollum foul shots with 8:13 left to play. Damian Lillard hit a pair of threes in that span.

The Nets responded with a 6-0 surge to lead 122-117 on a Jarrett Allen hook at the 5:15 mark. The teams traded the lead three more times in the final 2:53. LeVert converted a three-point play with 37.7 seconds left to cut the Nets’ deficit to one, but after Carmelo Anthony missed at the other end, LeVert held the ball as the clock wound down and decided not to drive against the defense of Gary Trent Jr., settling for a step-back jumper he missed.

“I just try to read the defense,” LeVert said. “I’ve got to watch it again. These are shots I practice each and every day, so, I’ll live with that shot.”

LeVert had a brilliant game with 37 points, nine assists and six rebounds to lead six Nets (35-37) in double figures. Joe Harris and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot each had 19 points, Tyler Johnson added 16, Garrett Temple totaled 15 and Jarrett Allen had 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Nets shot 55.2 percent from the field. Lillard was too much for the Nets, leading the Blazers (35-39) with 42 points and 12 assists. CJ McCollum added 25 points and seven assists and Josef Nurkic totaled 22 points and 10 rebounds.

Clearly, LeVert was inspired by the matchup with Lillard, who has been the best player in the NBA bubble, averaging 37.6 points and 9.6 assists in eight “seeding” games. Over his last three games, Lillard scored 51, 61 and 42, and he had a 45-point game earlier.

But LeVert pushed Lillard and the Trail Blazers right to the buzzer. “As far as the matchup, Dame right now is playing the best basketball in the world,” LeVert said. “Obviously, that’s a matchup that I’m going to take serious. We took it serious going into the game as a team. He did what great players do. He still got off. He led his team to a victory. Hats off to him. He’s a great player obviously. But I love those matchups.”

The Trail Blazers (35-39) went into the game tied for the eighth seed in the Western Conference with the Grizzlies (34-39) and Suns (34-39), but they had an extra game. So, a win put them into the play-in series against ninth-seeded Memphis, which owned a tiebreaker over Phoenix. Had Portland lost, it would have missed the playoffs.

The Trail Blazers never led by more than eight points, and the Nets put together an extended 26-8 run to take a 102-92 lead near the end of the third quarter. But a 12-4 Portland surge in the fourth period that included a pair of threes by Lillard gave the Blazers a 112-111 lead when McCollum hit a pair of foul shots with 8:13 left. The Nets led three more times, the last at 128-127 on a LeVert jumper in the paint with 2:39 to go, and it was tied at 130 on a Harris jumper at 1:52.

Despite the loss, the Nets finished 5-3 in the bubble and got great preparation for their first-round playoff series against the defending NBA champion Raptors starting Monday afternoon.

“It was the perfect game for us to be in a close game,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We talked about the progression going into the playoffs to get our guys quality minutes and be in a meaningful game where there was an outcome we had a chance to decide.

“Very impressive effort by our guys, especially knowing that Portland had a lot weighing on this game. I really give our guys credit for battling all night.”

New York Sports