PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Rookie Anfernee Simons scored a career-high 37 points in his first start of the season and the Portland Trail Blazers secured the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with a dramatic 136-131 victory over the Sacramento Kings using just six players Wednesday night.
The Blazers have won 14 of 17 games en route to their sixth straight trip to the playoffs. Portland will open the postseason on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who finished in sixth.
Portland had already clinched homecourt advantage in the opening round with a 104-101 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers the night before.
Denver beat the Timberwolves 99-95 Wednesday night, locking the Nuggets into the No. 2 seed and a first-round series against San Antonio, and giving Portland the opening to claim the third seed. The Jazz wound up as a No. 5 seed and will play fourth-seeded Houston.
Portland trailed by 28 points during the second half but made it interesting in the fourth quarter by closing within 117-116 with 7:53 left on Simon’s 3-pointer. Simons found Jake Layman for an alley-oop dunk to pull the Blazers in front.
Portland pushed the lead to 128-119 on Layman’s basket with 2:49 left. Simons hit his seventh 3-pointer to make it 131-123 with just over two minutes left and Sacramento couldn’t catch up.
Marvin Bagley III had 20 points to lead the Kings, who lost their 11th straight game in Portland.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts said before the game that guard CJ McCollum would rest because it was the second of a back-to-back. McCollum missed 10 games with a left knee injury and had just been back for Portland’s last two games.
As for his other players, Stotts said going in that it was “fluid.” Damian Lillard was available but did not play. Neither did any of the team’s other regular starters, as Stotts went with Skal Labissiere, Layman, Meyers Leonard, Gary Trent, Jr. and Simons. Trent, Simons and Labissiere were making their first starts of the season.
“Our goal was to get homecourt, which we got. Whatever happens tonight, happens,” Stotts said. “If you overthink it, you get in trouble.”
The Kings’ season is over, but coach Dave Joerger said he was encouraged.
“We haven’t been great for the last couple of weeks, but I don’t want that to dull the shine on what has been a terrific season of development and competitiveness, and competitive spirit, of laying down a foundation and an identity, a lot of success and a lot of good moments,” Joerger said. “I feel good about that, and I feel good about where we can be in the future.”
The Kings stayed with their regular starters and went up by 11 points in the opening quarter. They extended the lead to 26 points during the second and were up 87-62 at the break. Da’Aaron Fox led the Kings with 17 points and nine assists at halftime.
Joerger went to his reserves in the second half.
Kings: Joerger was asked before the game why the Kings had not won in Portland since 2012. He replied: “LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Wesley Matthews.”
Trail Blazers: Sacramento’s 87 first-half points were the most Portland had allowed in the half this season. … Simons became just the 11th rookie in franchise history to have a 30-point game.
Sacramento’s season is over.
The Trail Blazers will host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.