Dame out of game 5

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The Portland Trail Blazers’ joyride through the NBA’s bubble encountered significant turbulence Tuesday when all-star guard Damian Lillard was diagnosed with a right knee sprain that will sideline him for Game 5 of the team’s Western Conference first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Lillard, who was named MVP of the bubble’s seeding round after he carried the Blazers to the West’s eighth seed with his high-scoring performances, suffered the injury during a 135-115 loss to the Lakers in Game 4 on Monday.

Portland was one of the bubble’s best early stories, closing the regular season with a 6-2 record and defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in the West’s play-in game to claim the eighth seed. Lillard, 30, scored 51, 61 and 42 points in successive wins over the Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks and Brooklyn Nets before tallying 31 points to eliminate the Grizzlies.

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This would appear to be a crippling hit to the Blazers, who were already without Rodney Hood (Achilles’ tendon), Trevor Ariza (personal reasons) and Zach Collins (ankle). Portland has every reason to take a cautious approach to Lillard’s health, given that the five-time all-star is in the midst of a four-year, $196 million contract extension signed last summer. Earlier in the series, Lillard suffered a dislocated finger on his left hand.

The Lakers, who dropped Game 1, have righted the ship to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series thanks to stellar play from LeBron James and Anthony Davis. If they close out the Blazers on Wednesday, they will await the winner of the Oklahoma City Thunder-Houston Rockets series in the second round. Oklahoma City and Houston are tied at two games apiece with Game 5 also set for Wednesday.

Lillard found some success against the Lakers, scoring 34 points in both Game 1 and Game 3. But Los Angeles’ swarming perimeter defense held him to 18 points in Portland’s Game 2 loss, and he scored just 11 on 3-for-9 shooting in Game 4 before departing with the knee injury.

Portland has looked exhausted and overwhelmed at times against Los Angeles, in part because the Lakers were able to coast and rest before the series while the Blazers were playing win-or-go-home games.

“We just played a nine-game playoff series,” Blazers Coach Terry Stotts said after eliminating the Grizzlies. “It went the full nine.”

If the Blazers run out of gas, their time at the bubble will be remembered as an entertaining salvage of an otherwise lost season. After they reached the conference finals last year, long-term injuries to Jusuf Nurkic and Collins contributed to a disappointing 35-39 record. Given the opportunity for redemption at Disney World, Lillard and company were able to build momentum heading into next season.

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