59 points? Damian Lillard thinks he can top it.

2 Comments

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Moments after scoring a franchise-record 59 points in Portland’s victory over Utah, Damian Lillard said he believed he could top it.

The declaration was quintessential Lillard.

“A lot of players have played here, so just to think about that it’s a great honor, but hopefully I’ll beat it. Hopefully I’ll get past that,’ the Trail Blazers’ focused point guard said. “I think I will.”

Something else that happened following Saturday night’s 101-86 win was also typical of Lillard: He gave the game ball to Utah veteran Joe Johnson, who scored his 20,000th career point during the game.

“That’s an accomplishment for him as well,” Lillard said.

Lillard’s step-back 3-pointer with 1:49 left pushed him past Damon Stoudamire’s previous franchise record of 54 points, set in New Orleans on Jan. 14, 2005. He also surpassed Brandon Roy’s Moda Center record of 52 set back in 2008.

He pointed to his wrist, indicating “Lillard Time” – which becomes a thing in Portland when he takes over games – and then raised his hands before pounding his chest. He shouted to the standing Moda Center crowd: “I got this.”

He finished with nine 3s to match his career high and the Blazers’ record. He set another team record with his 27th game of 30 or more points this season. He is also the only Blazers player to have three games in a season with 50-plus points.

Oh, and he didn’t have a single turnover.

Coach Terry Stotts said simply, “Damian was phenomenal.”

“When he gets it going, it’s fun to watch,” Portland forward Meyers Leonard said.

Lillard came oh-so-close to reaching the 60-point milestone, but two missed free throws with 23.1 seconds left kept him at 59.

Earlier in the week at Utah, Portland fell 106-87. Lillard finished with 16 points, well below his average of 27 a game.

“I think he kind of knew in the back of his mind that he struggled last game against us, and he came in on a mission,” Utah’s Rodney Hood said. “He started off hot and it was hard to slow him down. Once a guy like that gets hot, there’s only so much you can do.”

But more important than the points, at least to Lillard, was the win.

Portland (40-40) has a hold on the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but the team was still threatened by the Denver Nuggets with two games to go. Portland had a pair of losses going into the game against the Jazz.

“Tonight was a game we absolutely had to have, especially with the last two times we played them, they defended really well,” Lillard said. “I was able to overcome that and have a great offensive performance in a much-needed game at the right time. That meant a lot to me.”

Lillard, the sixth overall selection in the 2012 draft, is in his fifth season with the Blazers. The two-time All-Star is also averaging 4.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists.

“Lillard Time” has become a phenomenon in Rip City, with a clever entrepreneur even selling a watch that has the phrase on its face. One fan painted a mural of Lillard tapping his wrist on his garage in Southeast Portland a couple of years back.

In December 2014, he hit a 3-pointer to force overtime in a game against Oklahoma City and exclaimed to the crowd: “Y’all know what time it is” and gestured to his wrist. But the exact game the phrase was coined is unclear.

His league-wide reputation as a clutch player was set the season before when he hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave Portland a six-game, first-round victory over the Houston Rockets and sent the team to the Western Conference semifinals for the first time in 14 years.

“Sometimes you just go out there and watch him when he’s doing his thing,” Portland forward Maurice Harkless said after Saturday’s game. “Tonight was one of those nights.”

David West pump fakes past one Trail Blazer, posterizes another (video)

Leave a comment

David West is 37 years old.

Three Things to Know: Rockets extend win streak to 10, Thunder… not so much

Associated Press
1 Comment

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s a roundup of Monday night’s action you might have missed while paying for a $14,000 Uber ride.

1) Rockets fall behind in a shootout, but come back from 13 down late in the third to extend win streak to 10. This was as good a game as the Pelicans could play without Anthony Davis — they put up 103 points on 58.7 percent shooting and hitting 17 threes. DeMarcus Cousins was a beast in the paint, while Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore couldn’t seem to miss from beyond the arc. Late in the third the Pelicans were up 13, and they were up 10 at the start of the fourth.

It was not enough.

James Harden had 12 points in the fourth (and finished the game with a career-high 17 assists).

Chris Paul added 11 in the fourth, and the Rockets stormed back winning the fourth 37-20 and the game 130-123, extending their win streak to 10 games.

The Rockets are 21-4 and are outscoring teams by 11.4 points per 100 possessions this season — they are the best team in the NBA right now. CP3 and Harden mesh on offense — the Rockets are +7.8 points per 100 when they are on the court together — and Houston surprisingly has the fifth best defense in the NBA this season. None of this is a fluke. This team is playing hard right now, establishing an identity, and establishing themselves as a contender.

Can they beat a healthy Warriors team in a seven-game series? I am not going that far, I think there are things that can be exploited in a series, but we are five months away from the Rockets needing to answer that question. What Houston has shown is it is the team best suited to challenge Golden State — the Rockets can play at pace and thrive, they have multiple elite scoring playmakers (and coach Mike D’Antoni staggers them so one is almost always on the court), they have a switchable defense that can attack the Warriors wings, and they have the right mindset. GM Daryl Morey put together a team to go after the Warriors, and he did it better than anyone. They are a legit threat to the title holders, and the Rockets should only get better as the season moves along.

2) Celtics lose with Kyrie Irving out. Thunder lose because… you tell me? There were a couple of upsets Monday night in the NBA, but only one was easy to excuse.

The lowly Chicago Bulls have not been quite so lowly the past week, winning three straight games, the latest one handily against the Boston Celtics 108-85. Credit best friends Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis (*cough*) who combined for 47 points, plus the improved play of Kris Dunn lately continued as he had a dozen points. We would normally call this a terrible loss for the Celtics, and you can be sure Brad Stevens didn’t like it, but with Kyrie Irving sitting out with a left quad contusion, there is at least a good reason for the off night.

There is no good reason for the Thunder — fully healthy — to lose at home to the Charlotte Hornets 116-103. The Hornets hit 13-of-25 from three, and Dwight Howard outplayed Steven Adams all night on his way to 23 points, Kemba Walker had 19 points and 9 assists, but this is the kind of game the Thunder should win. After a Russell Westbrook highlight slam over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the game was tied 66-66, but then the Hornets went on a 22-2 run. Of late, the Thunder looked like they were turning a corner with three straight wins, but then followed it up losing 2-of-3 now and needing to go to overtime against a shorthanded Grizzlies team to get that one win. Royce Young re-tweeted himself and hit the nail on the head.

There is no one thing wrong with the Thunder, but more and more focus is turning to Carmelo Anthony. Not just his lack of defense or his shooting slump — he had 11 points Monday and is shooting 33 percent overall and 16.7 percent from three his last five games — but the roster depth OKC gave up to get him. Paul George and Russell Westbrook have a grove together (the Thunder are +4.8 per 100 when they are paired) but things slow when Anthony is added to the mix and another star sits while Anthony plays. In ‘Melo’s last five games OKC is -1.8 per 100 with Anthony on the court.

The Thunder still have time, but each day the inconsistent play and losing get more concerning. As George said after the game, “We can say we’re going to figure it out, we can say all that, but at some point it’s got to stop.”

3) Matt Barnes retires. Barnes announced Monday on Instagram that his 15-year NBA run was over.

For a lot of fans, mention Barnes and they think of the guy who tried to get in a fight with Derek Fisher. Or the New York nightclub incident with Cousins. Or the guy who was a pest on the court and seemed a magnet for technical fouls and fines from the league office. But Barnes was the kind of guy you wanted coming off the bench on your team and hated to play against — he went hard, he could shoot threes, he defended, and he brought a spark to the game. He was the kind of opponent you hate to go against.

Barnes was a second-round pick out of UCLA who played for nine teams during his career. He was the guy teams turned to for a spark off the bench — both because he could shoot the rock and because he played a fiery, emotional game. Barnes finished his career averaging 8.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Barnes won an NBA title with the Warriors last season, and he played well after Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury and Barnes was thrust into a larger role (the Warriors went on a 14-game win streak in that time).

While he had a rough exterior, off the court he was one of the more thoughtful basketball interviews out there — ask him about the game and he gave smart, calm, intelligent answers, not just clichés. He was active with charities and gave of his time and money, it wasn’t just a tax write off for him. He’ll be missed by some of us, but he’s a guy ready for life after basketball.

Rockets’ Clint Capela dunks, blocks, plays DeMarcus Cousins to standstill (VIDEO)

1 Comment

Welcome to Clint Capela‘s big night.

Going toe-to-toe with DeMarcus Cousins — who has been playing at an All-NBA level this season and had 24 and 14 on Monday night — the Rockets’ athletic big played Cousins to a standstill. Capela had a career-high 28 points on 13-of-14 from the field with most of his shots being dunks (every one of this shots was at the rim), plus he had five blocks, most of Cousins.

It was the best game the Swiss national has had as a pro, who also had eight rebounds on the night. Check out his big night above.

Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis lead way, Bulls blow out Kyrie-less Celtics 108-85

Associated Press
Leave a comment

CHICAGO (AP) — Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis are starting to draw attention for their play together instead of their fight with each other.

Mirotic scored 24 points, Portis added a career-high 23 and the Chicago Bulls blew out Boston 108-85 on Monday night with Celtics star Kyrie Irving sidelined because of a bruised left quadriceps.

Owners of the NBA’s worst record, the Bulls (6-20) built an 18-point lead in the second quarter against the Eastern Conference leaders. And when Boston cut it to 12 in the fourth, the Bulls simply pulled away for their third straight win.

Leading the way were two players who made headlines for all the wrong reasons before the season started.

Their fight at practice left Mirotic with facial fractures, causing him to miss the first 23 games. Portis served an eight-game suspension.

But the two have played well together the past two games.

“We need to give the credit to (coach Fred Hoiberg),” Mirotic said. “Fred is the one who is making us play. He’s the guy who is calling the plays for us and putting us in the right spots to play.”

As for the fight?

“Man, that situation’s over,” Portis said. “Everybody’s talking about that. But that doesn’t matter anymore. We’re just trying to win games.”

Mirotic made his first start of the season with leading scorer Lauri Markkanen sidelined because of back spasms and shot 9 of 14 with eight rebounds. Through three games, the 6-foot-10 forward is averaging 16.3 points.

Portis shot 10 of 15 and nailed all three 3-pointers.

Al Horford scored 15 for Boston (23-6). Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier added 13 points apiece in the Celtics’ most lopsided loss of the season.

“Sometimes you get your butt kicked. It was simple as that,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Chicago dictated the whole game. They played harder than we did. They played with more presence than we did. They played more competitive than we did. They played with more authority than we did. You’re not going to win many games when you play like that.”