Damian Lillard is simply willing the Portland Trail Blazers toward the postseason.
The veteran guard tied a career high with 61 points, leading the Blazers to a 134-131 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night that moved his team into eighth place in the Western Conference.
“Ain’t nothing I want more,” Lillard said of the playoffs. “When I came here [to Disney World] I told them I’m not here to waste my time. Our work ain’t done yet but we’re fighting for it.”
The Blazers will clinch a spot in the play-in series with a win Thursday against Brooklyn. Memphis blew a chance to clinch a spot by losing to Boston.
“We have to come out with the same mentality,” Lillard said. “We control our own destiny. That’s the most important game of our lives.”
Lillard joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players with three 60-point games in a season. Coach Terry Stotts said his guard has been extra focused since missing two late free throws in a loss to the Clippers on Saturday.
“He’s showing a lot of resolve,” Stotts said. “Nobody wanted to come into this bubble and make the playoffs more than Dame. We have one more game to go, but his leadership and his game speaks for itself. But he’s bringing the team along with him.”
Kristaps Porzingis scored 36 points before fouling out late in the game and Luka Doncic had 25 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for the Mavericks, who will finish No. 7 in the West.
Lillard made nine 3-pointers in his sixth 50-point game of the season. He’s the 12th player in NBA history to score 50 points in back-to-back games after dropping 51 on the 76ers on Sunday.
No cooling off Sun
Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns preserved their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers, 130-117, to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.
Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.
Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the four-way playoff race in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies missed another chance to guarantee themselves a spot in the play-in series by losing to the Celtics.
Phoenix is 7-0, the only undefeated team in the restart, and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.
Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.
A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.
Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers were without Ben Simmons (knee), Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle), and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.
In another game involved in the race for the final playoff spot in the West, Keldon Johnson had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and San Antonio kept alive its chances of becoming the first team in NBA history to make 23 consecutive playoff appearances with a 123-105 victory over the Houston Rockets.
San Antonio has won three straight and five out of seven since arriving in the Florida bubble. DeMar DeRozan added 23 points. Jakob Poeltl finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Russell Westbrook had 20 points and seven turnovers in his first game back in the lineup for Houston after missing two games with a bruised right quadriceps.
Antetokounmpo ejected for head-butting
Giannis Antetokounmpo was ejected from Milwaukee’s game against the Washington Wizards after the NBA MVP headbutted Moritz Wagner.
Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo, who didn’t like the call in what had become a physical game. During a break in the action with Milwaukee challenging the call, Antetokounmpo approached Wagner and started jabbering at him before head-butting him and drawing the ejection in the second quarter.
He had 12 points and nine rebounds in 10 minutes before exiting the floor.
The game itself is meaningless. The Bucks have already clinched the top seed in the East, while the Wizards, who are winless in the bubble, have already been eliminated from playoff contention.
Antetokounmpo’s head-butt could draw a punishment from the league and keep him out of the team’s final seeding game against the Grizzlies on Thursday.
Thomas trophy pulled from auction
The NBA all-star MVP trophy awarded to Isiah Thomas in 1984 was removed from the online catalogue of an auction house after the former Detroit Pistons star said that it had been stolen. Dallas-based Heritage Auctions withdrew the item and canceled all bids, promising an investigation after Thomas offered specifics on where and when the trophy had been stolen.
“This trophy was stolen from St. Joseph High School the night Mr. Pingatore my coach died,” Thomas tweeted. “It belongs to me. You stole my trophy please return it!”
“Mr. Pingatore” is Gene Pingatore, who was the winningest boys’ high school basketball coach in Illinois history and gained wider fame in the 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams.” He died in June 26, 2019, at the age of 82.
Nets stay on roll, top Magic
Jeremiah Martin and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot each scored 24 points, and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Orlando Magic, 108-96, as both teams looked ahead to the playoffs. The Nets improved to 5-2 in the restart with their third straight victory. They have one game remaining before a first-round series against defending champion Toronto. The Magic are locked into the eighth seed and will face Milwaukee … Tom Thibodeau made the first addition to his New York Knicks coaching staff, hiring Kenny Payne as an assistant. Payne has spent the last 10 years at Kentucky, where he has been John Calipari’s associate head coach since 2014. He was part of the staff that won the 2012 national championship and won its first 38 games in 2014-15.