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Devin Booker hits free throws with 2.4 seconds left; Suns prevent Dame, CJ and Blazers from clinching playoff berth.

COURTESY PHOTO: BRUCE ELY/TRAIL BLAZERS - CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard had great scoring games, but Phoenix topped Portland 118-117 Thursday.The skinny: Portland's guards were blazing Thursday night, but the Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker and Chris Paul shined brightest at the end.

Booker hit two free throws with 2.4 seconds left, CJ McCollum's desperation shot missed and Phoenix beat Portland 118-117, preventing the Blazers from clinching an NBA playoff spot.

Playing a night after winning at Utah, the Blazers fell to 41-30, but hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against Dallas (41-29) and Los Angeles Lakers (40-30) while trying to nail down the fifth or sixth spot in the Western Conference heading into the season's final three days (and avoid the play-in tournament). Portland plays host to Denver on Sunday.

Thursday's game was a barnburner as Damian Lillard and McCollum had terrific games, Paul matched Lillard for many baskets and Booker made the game-winning free throws. Moments before Booker's free throws, Portland's Robert Covington missed two free throws, which came after a Booker turnover (a double dribble forced by Carmelo Anthony).

Phoenix started 18 of 18 on free throws but missed three free throws in the final minute (all by Dario Saric).

COURTESY PHOTO: BRUCE ELY/TRAIL BLAZERS - Damian Lillard was scoring at the basket Thursday, making only two 3-pointers en route to 41 points.It appeared Lillard wasn't going to let Portland lose. He entered the fourth quarter with 17 points and finished with 41 — a 24-point fourth quarter (9-of-10 shooting), much of it via penetrations to the basket; he only made two 3-pointers all night. McCollum had 27 points (hitting five 3-pointers). The two combined to go 27 of 42 from the floor (.643). They also combined for 11 assists. Covington hit four 3-pointers and scored 16 points.

The Blazers shot .543 from the field (15 of 33 3-pointers, .455).

Phoenix played without center Deandre Ayton for the first time all season. Others filled in, as Phoenix outrebounded Portland, and Paul led the way, going 11 of 14 from the floor and scoring 26 points. Cameron Payne and Mikal Bridges added 21 points each and Booker 18 for Phoenix (49-21), which still has a chance to catch Utah for the top spot in the West.

The Suns shot .466 from the field and finished 23 of 26 on free throws.

Great game: There were 25 lead changes and 18 ties. Phoenix led by as many as 10 points, Portland by as many as four.

Quotable: "The last game of the season is now the most important game of the season," Lillard said.

Last seconds: The Blazers challenged the Norman Powell foul call on Booker that was originally whistled with 0.9 seconds left (risking a timeout), before the officials changed the clock to 2.4 seconds left. The call was confirmed, and Portland lost the timeout. Stotts said after the game that had he known the clock would be changed to 2.4 seconds, he would have kept the timeout to advance the ball to halfcourt after Booker's free throws (made or missed), giving the Blazers a better opportunity to score points at the end (rather than rely on a long heave to McCollum).

Next up: It comes down to Sunday, and the Blazers haven't beaten Denver all season. After the loss to Phoenix, the Blazers fell to 1-10 against the top-four West teams (with a win at Utah coming Wednesday).

The Blazers and Nuggets tip off at 6 p.m.

Jason Vondersmith
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