59 points? Damian Lillard thinks he can top it.


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.”

LaMarcus Aldridge’s 39 points lead Spurs past Wolves, 117-101

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) – LaMarcus Aldridge had 39 points and 10 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a sluggish start to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 117-101 on Saturday night.

San Antonio won its third straight to move into fifth in the Western Conference five days after dropping to 10th and out of playoff position.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points and nine rebounds for Minnesota, which dropped to sixth in the West.

The Spurs had lost three straight and nine of 11 but are now unbeaten halfway through a six-game homestand.

San Antonio shot 84 percent in the second quarter, their best shooting quarter since 2010.

Two nights after battling New Orleans’ Anthony Davis on both ends, Aldridge had to take on another All-Star in Towns. Aldridge responded by leading the Spurs in scoring for the 49th time this season while helping keep Towns in check.

Aldridge scored 18 of 21 points during a five-minute stretch in the second quarter, including 12 straight. He capped the run by coming from the weak side to swat Towns’ floater deep into the seats.

Minnesota started quickly, shooting 78 percent from the floor in the first 5 1/2 minutes while San Antonio floundered at 17 percent. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called timeout, only to watch the Timberwolves’ Jeff Teague steal the ball once play resumed.

The Spurs responded behind veteran reserves Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay. San Antonio went on a 16-4 run bridging the first and second quarters to take a 29-26 lead.

Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points for Minnesota and Teague had 16.


Stan Van Gundy goes off on officials: “We got absolutely screwed all night”

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The Pistons were likely to lose to the red-hot Trail Blazers on the road, and that came to be Saturday night 100-87, Portland 12th straight win. The Pistons shot 38.8 percent for the game and had a dreadful offensive rating of 93.8 (points per 100 possessions).

Portland is one the top five defensive teams in the NBA this season, but that’s not what Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy thought was the problem — he laid the blame on the officiating.

That’s going to be a fine.

Van Gundy is frustrated — with this game and with this season. So are Pistons fans, and seemingly so is Detroit owner Tom Gores after his lukewarm vote of confidence in Van Gundy recently. They should be, this team is a disappointment and the Blake Griffin trade was a big swing that has yet to work out. The Pistons are going to miss the playoffs. Around the league, the sense is that Van Gundy will lose his GM job to former super agent Arn Tellem, who was brought in to guide the Pistons into their new building but now whose talents would better serve the basketball side of the operation. The only question is will Van Gundy still be coaching in Detroit next season — just coaching, like Doc Rivers with the Clippers — or of the change will be more sweeping than that.

Hornets’ coach gives savage, frank assessment of Willy Hernangomez

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When Willy Hernangomez was not getting much run with the Knicks this season, especially as injuries opened up space in the front line rotation, there were questions as to why. Then the #freeWillyHernangomez movement popped up.

Eventually, Hernangomez was traded to the Hornets where… he barely plays. He’s gotten more than 10 minutes just once since coming to Charlotte.

What gives? Hornet’s coach Steve Clifford didn’t hold back when answering that question to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“If you were in one place and didn’t play much, if you want to play more in the next place, I’d say work harder and kill myself,” Clifford said at the Hornets shootaround at the Players Association’s midtown headquarters. “The reality is he wasn’t playing here for a reason. He’s got to change things…

“He’s not up to speed on what we’re doing to play a lot,” Clifford said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle for him. He’s smart, but he’s not this high-flier, phenomenal, natural athlete able to make up ground. He’s got to be on top of things, especially on the defensive end. If he’s not detailed defensively, he’s not that [athletic] guy…

“To be an every-night player, and I’ve told him this, he’s got to improve his shooting,” Clifford said. “He is right now, in my opinion, a back-to-the-basket player who can pass. But the reality is his passing doesn’t come into play until they have to get close to him and know he’s not going to knock down a shot. And he’s not a knockdown shooter.”

Well then.

Just to be clear he’s got to put in a lot more effort, become smarter on the defensive end, and improve his shooting. That’s a healthy off-season checklist.

Hernangomez has another year on his contract at a very reasonable $1.5 million before the Hornets have to make any kind of decision on him, which means whoever is the new GM in Charlotte he will choose to keep Hernangomez around. For now. He flashed potential his rookie season with the Knicks, when asked to play strictly to his strengths, but Clifford and the Hornets — and basically every other team in the NBA — is going to ask more of him.

Clifford was clear, as no doubt he has been clear to Hernangomez (Clifford is as straight a shooter as the league has). The ball is in Hernangomez’s court.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis denies drug charges while eating Popeyes on a charter plane

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Best. Denial. Ever.

Last month, former NBA player Glen “Big Baby” Davis was arrested last month at a hotel in a suburb of Baltimore by Jimmy McNulty and Lt. Daniels with 126 grams of marijuana and more than $96,000 in cash, according to a police report. He has been charged with possession and intent to distribute.

Davis has declared his innocence in the best denial video ever — eating Popeyes chicken and flashing cash and a championship ring.

I have no idea whether Davis is guilty or not, I was not at a Hampton’s Inn outside Baltimore last month. The court system will sort that out, that is what it’s there for.

But I know a brilliant video when I see one. This is it.