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59 points? Damian Lillard thinks he can top it.

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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.”

Report: Charlotte Hornets pick up option, will bring back GM Rich Cho for next season

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The Charlotte Hornets are the most unlucky team in the NBA, they have the point differential of a 42-38 team (via Basektball-Reference.com), but some ugly losses — they are 0-9 in games decided by three points or less — have them on the outside looking in at the playoffs. Kemba Walker was brilliant, but the Hornets defense regressed, and they missed the depth that Jeremy Lin and other veterans provided. When their guys were injured, specifically Cody Zeller for a stretch in the middle of the season, the Hornets couldn’t recover.

Owner Michael Jordan is apparently not laying the blame for that at the feet of GM Rich Cho. He will be back next season, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

The Charlotte Hornets have picked up the option for next season on general manager Rich Cho’s contract, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Hornets recently activated the 2017-18 in Cho’s existing deal.

This is the right move.

The Hornets need a smart, steady hand at GM spot. Jordan, as an owner, should be able to have input but what the Hornets don’t want is him or anyone catching a few games of someone playing well in the NCAA Tournament and demanding they move him way up the draft board. Or getting involved in trade details. Jordan was as great a player as the game has ever seen, but that’s different from running a basketball organization. The franchise seems to have learned that.

The Hornets have some decisions to make this summer, but they are in a stronger position than it looks — and with a decent team — heading into the draft and free agency.

NBA Power Rankings Week 25: Warriors, Spurs, Rockets top final ranking of NBA season

Associated Press
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This is the final NBA Power Rankings of the season, a fun exercise that is ultimately moot because the NBA has a playoff system and is too smart to use polls to pick which teams are in it. Meaning yes, these are moot, but it’s still an entertaining exercise (there’s just no reason freak out about then).

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (66-14, Last Week No. 1). Golden State went 15-4 with Kevin Durant out, and they are now 1-0 with him back (no Stephen Curry in that game). Because we as fans want drama and unpredictability, we keep looking for reasons to doubt the Warriors — how healthy is Durant? Will he return mess up the flow of their offense? — when we all know the reality: This is the best team in the NBA, and if they stay healthy it’s hard to see anyone beating them four out of seven. The road to the title goes through Oracle.

 
Spurs small icon 2. Spurs (61-19, LW 2). Despite being locked in as the No. 2 seed in the West, Gregg Popovich said he’s not resting anyone the final couple games of the season (they got to rest, and they have days off between games). I’ll believe it when I see it. Once again, a great defense (best in the NBA) drives the Spurs and will drive them deep into the playoffs as well. Kawhi Leonard had a season good enough to win the MVP award almost any other year, but he seems destined to come in third this time around — then in the playoffs show everyone that was probably too low.

 
Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (54-26, LW 4). Going into the season, I said the Houston Rockets would go as far as their defense would take them. We knew the offense would be elite (second best in NBA), but the Rockets improved on defense, too, and finished 15th in the league. There’s a reason Mike D’Antoni should win Coach of the Year, but I would have Daryl Morey as executive of the year, too, for giving D’Antoni a team that fits his style of play (something the Lakers and Knicks failed to do).

 
Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (49-31, LW 6). Maybe this is ranking them a little too high, but Los Angeles is hitting it’s stride at the right time — they have won 9 of 11 and have the second best net rating in the NBA over their last 10 games. Maybe a little health, a little luck, and knowing this could be the final run for the Blake Griffin/Chris Paul era of the Clippers could propel this team to a deep playoff run. Then again, they get the Warriors in the second round.

 
Cavaliers small icon 5. Cavaliers (51-28, LW 9). Wednesday night they look like the unquestioned and unquestionable best team in the East, thrashing the Celtics. Then they drop back-to-back games to Atlanta and look terrible doing it. It’s easy to question this team’s lack of focus of late, its lack of depth up front (the Andrew Bogut injury was a setback), the fact they’re a little less versatile than a season ago, but who you going to pick to beat them four out of seven in the East?

 
Raptors small icon 6. Raptors (50-31, LW 5). Kyle Lowry is back, if shaking off a little rust, and with that Toronto may be the team best suited to beat both Boston in the second round and threaten the Cavaliers in the conference finals. Toronto has size up front with Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, versatility, and great guard play. The Raptors took the Cavaliers six games last season, added Ibaka (who is an upgrade for them at the four), and just feel like we are sleeping on how dangerous they might be.

 
Celtics small icon 7. Celtics (51-29, LW 3). They are tied with the Cavaliers and have a real shot at the No. 1 seed in the East with two games left to play. That is a huge credit to Brad Stevens and what he’s done getting the most out of this team, and to the improvement Isaiah Thomas has shown this year. That said, the way they lost to the Cavaliers and Hawks last week raises questions about how deep this team can go in the playoffs.

 
Jazz small icon 8. Jazz (49-31, LW 7). It’s hard to see them getting home court in the first round because, although they are tied with the Clippers, Los Angeles owns the tie breaker and the Jazz finish the season against the Warriors and Spurs. Without home court, it’s going to be difficult for the Jazz to beat the Clippers. That said, this season has been a big step forward for Utah — now can they keep Gordon Hayward this summer as he hits free agency?

 
Wizards small icon 9. Wizards (48-32, LW 8). Washington is locked into the four seed in the East, which likely means starting against the Hawks (although that is not set). Washington should advance out of the first round but they have been a terrible defensive team since the All-Star break, third worst in the NBA, and if they don’t turn that around their playoff run will be much shorter than they hoped or planned.

 
Thunder small icon 10. Thunder (46-34, LW 10). Russell Westbrook has made his MVP cast in recent weeks, not as much with the triple-doubles as with his clutch play leading the Thunder to comeback wins, such as scoring the final 13 points against the Nuggets Sunday. Oklahoma City will face Houston in the first round, and while the focus will be on Westbrook vs. Harden the real challenge for OKC will be depth and finding a second shot creator and scorer.

 
Blazers small icon 11. Trail Blazers (40-40, LW 11). Portland has gotten into the playoffs, aided by Damian Lillard going off for 59 points on the Jazz last week. He’s going to have to have another game like that for the Trail Blazers to steal a game from the Warriors in the first round. That said, there should be fireworks as this is a matchup of the teams with the two best point differentials since the All-Star break.

 
Bucks small icon 12. Bucks (41-38, LW 12). The Bucks may have stumbled a bit getting there in recent weeks, they are in the playoffs. While I love to watch their gambling, aggressive style of defense, it strikes me as a system that can and will get exploited in the playoffs by any of the top four teams. That said, who is not excited to see playoff Giannis Antetokounmpo?

 
Grizzlies small icon 13. Grizzlies (43-37, LW 14). Once again we get the Spurs and Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs, although this time Memphis will have a healthy Mike Conley and he’s the best point guard in this series. Marc Gasol is the best center in this series. This was a series the Spurs wanted to avoid because of the physicality, but it’s one that will be difficult for the Grizzlies to stretch beyond five because of their lack of depth and some rough matchups.

 
Hawks small icon 14. Hawks (42-38 LW 20). Last week they swept a home-and-home from the Cavaliers where Atlanta had none of their regular starters for the first game them came from 26 points down in the fourth to win the second. Insane. One more win, against Charlotte or Indiana this week, and the Hawks get the five seed and a shot at John Wall and the Wizards in the first round.

 
Pacers small icon 15. Pacers (40-40, LW 16).. They look bound for the postseason after beating Toronto and Milwaukee last week (although a spot is not locked up), and they are doing it on the strength of Paul George playing his best ball of the season — 33 points and nine rebounds a game, plus shooting 44 percent from three in his last five games. The Pacers also have gotten some timely defense. Indiana will have some decisions to make this summer if Paul George does not make an All-NBA team (he’s on the bubble), but for now they can enjoy the playoffs.

 
Bulls small icon 16. Bulls (39-41, LW 13). The Bulls had one of the easiest schedules in the NBA down the stretch, have the tiebreaker with the Heat and Pacers, and yet may not make the playoffs because they do things like lose to the Brooklyn Nets. Chicago can’t get out of its own way, but with home games against Orlando and Brooklyn it’s still hard to think the Bulls will miss the postseason. Talk about a team that has some serious decisions to make this summer, Chicago tops the list and it starts with “what kind of team are they trying to build?”

 
Heat small icon 17. Heat (39-41, LW 15). They have gone 5-6 without Dion Waiters (ankle) and in that stretch have gone from everybody’s favorite playoff Cinderella to a team that may well miss out on the dance altogether. Tough games against Washington and Cleveland this week don’t help their cause. Even if they miss the playoffs, EriK Spoelstra is going to get some Coach of the Year votes.

 
Nuggets small icon 18. Nuggets (38-42, LW 19). Westbrook being Westbrook eliminated Denver from the playoffs this year, but it was still a successful season for the Nuggets — they have found a star (Nikola Jokic) and a guard of the future (Jamal Murray), plus have established a style and culture. Now they need to add some defenders to the roster and this team could become something special going forward

 
Hornets small icon 19. Hornets (36-44, LW 18). While their defense took a step back, this was still the most unlucky team in the NBA this year, they had the point differential of a 42-38 team, but some ugly losses have them on the outside looking in at the playoffs. That shouldn’t undersell what a fantastic season Kemba Walker had, he took huge steps forward with his game and carried this team’s offense all season long.

Pistons small icon 20. Pistons (36-43, LW 21). . Road wins in Memphis and Houston last week remind us what a disappointing season this has been for a Pistons team that everyone expected to take a step forward off a playoff trip last season. But Andre Drummond was flat, Reggie Jackson started the season injured and seemed to regress, and Stan Van Gundy goes into the summer with some serious questions about what his team should look like next season, particularly in the backcourt.

 
Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (33-47, LW 17). One of the most interesting teams to watch this summer, the only thing we know for sure is there will be changes. Maybe to the front office and GM Dell Demps. Maybe to Alvin Gentry as coach. Certainly to the roster — can they re-sign DeMarcus Cousins? Putting aside the question of if Anthony Davis and Cousins can play together (it’s still too early to tell) this team desperately needs help on the wings, guys who can shoot threes and defend a little.

 
timberwolves small icon 22. Timberwolves (31-48, LW 23). After watching him in person Sunday night, it’s going to be two seasons tops before you can’t keep Karl-Anthony Towns off the All-NBA teams. He’s got to get better defensively, but he’s that good. Outside of Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the rest of the Minnesota roster has all the focus of a bunch of school-age kids three days before summer vacation right now, at least that’s how it looked to me at the Lakers’ game Sunday.

 
Mavericks small icon 23. Mavericks (32-47, LW 22). Tuesday night at home the Mavericks will honor former Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo by having him in uniform and on the bench for the teams’s final home game of the season. Insert your own joke here about Romo getting inured in warmups and not being able to play. Dirk Nowitzki will be back for one more season, but Dallas needs to be looking for the next star to go with Harrison Barnes, who had a strong season.

 
Kings small icon 24. Kings (31-28, LW 25). This is the 11th season in a row the Kings have missed the playoffs, and after the Cousins trade it’s hard to see them making for a few more years either. While maybe Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere have shown a little promise of late, Sacramento needs to add picks and start adding talent to this roster. Dave Joerger can coach, but the franchise needs to be patient and draft/trade for young talent. Do we really trust Vlade Divac to do that? Does ownership?

 
Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (30-51 LW 26). It’s not going to be simple to trade a guy who will make $26 million and has a no-trade clause, but it’s hard to see the Carmelo Anthony era in New York lasting past this season. Both sides are ready to move on. The Knicks also likely move on from Derrick Rose. The triangle offense will be in, but that means going out and getting specific players to run it, not just use stopgap measures.

 
Magic small icon 26. Magic (28-52 LW 28). The leaked whiteboard images got a little overblown, yes it was sloppy to allow it but there was nothing on that board that most teams don’t have on their brainstorming boards. That said, no GM is on a hotter seat than Rob Hennigan in Orlando (think of the Serge Ibaka trades alone and you see why), and with a front office change would certainly come some roster changes. Going to be an interesting summer in Orlando.

 
Lakers small icon 27. Lakers (24-55, LW 29). Winners of four in a row to end the season, they now have a less than 50/50 chance of keeping their first-round pick (if it is top three they keep it, four or later and it goes to Philly).I’m not sure if D’Angelo Russell is part of the long-term future in Los Angeles, but his shot to beat the Timberwolves Sunday was certainly one of the highlights of the Los Angeles season.

 
Sixers small icon 28. 76ers (28-52, LW 24). For a team finishing this poorly, they took a lot of strides forward this season — we know Joel Embiid can be a franchise player (if healthy), Dario Saric can put up points, and the team defended and played hard all season. They get Ben Simmons healthy next season, they will have new players (their first-round pick, plus the Lakers’ pick if it falls outside the top three), and next year it feels like this team can make another big step forward.

 
Nets small icon 29. Nets (20-60, LW 27). While they finish with the worst record in the league, the Nets quietly went 11-13 after the All-Star break and played pretty well. Part of it was Jeremy Lin getting healthy and providing some offensive spark, but credit coach Kenny Atkinson for getting this team to not just roll over, and this was a good offensive team after the break. They have a lot of money this summer, look for them to try and poach some restricted free agents with big offers (as they tried to do last summer with Allen Crabbe, for example).

 
Suns small icon 30. Suns (23-57, LW 30). The Suns went with the youth movement late in the season to see what they’ve got, but what they really have are questions about veterans: Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Tyson Chandler, and Jared Dudley are all under contract for at least two more years — they all need to be shopped. Maybe Bledsoe stays to partner with Devin Booker in the backcourt, but this roster needs an overhaul and a direction.

Three Things We Learned Sunday: Westbrook has heroics, Cavaliers have collapse

Associated Press
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There’s only a handful of days left in the NBA season, and the key games Sunday had meaning — either in the standings or personal. It was a wild day around the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook breaks Oscar Robertson’s record with 42nd triple-double — and he wasn’t done being amazing. Russell Westbrook has played with a ferocity this season that is just hard to fathom. Yes, we all knew he’d put up numbers — he scored 50 points and put up an NBA record 42nd triple-double this season on Sunday in a win over Denver — but his relentlessness has been mind-blowing.

“To do what he’s done — both he and Harden, and to do it every night,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said shaking his head. “It’s a credit to him, and just being around him with Team USA, the spirit and competitiveness that he has, that drive, to do all the things that he has done and to still have that hunger and drive every year is amazing, it’s what makes him special.”

Here’s the thing — that 42nd triple-double may not have been the most impressive thing Westbrook did on Sunday. By the time he set the record the Thunder were mathematically locked into the sixth seed, and remember he had locked up averaging a triple-double for the season before this game even started. There was literally nothing left to play for and the Thunder were down by 13. Nearly every player in the league would have packed it in at that point.

Not Westbrook. He sparked and 18-4 run that included him scoring the final 13 points in the game, capped off by this game-winning three.

Go ahead and say he’s chasing stats, but the Thunder are 33-9 when Westbrook gets a triple-double and 13-25 when he doesn’t. He’s been clutch for them all season — he’s had nothing short of a legendary season.

BONUS THING WE LEARNED: The playoffs are now set in the West, because Westbrook’s three eliminated Denver from playoff contention. Your matchups are:

1. Golden State vs. 8. Portland
2. San Antonio vs. 7. Memphis
3. Houston vs. 6. Oklahoma City
4. L.A. Clippers vs. 5. Utah (home court in this not formally decided)

Yes, that means Harden vs. Westbrook in the NBA playoffs. Which means who should be MVP in the minds of a lot of fans will be influenced by a series that took place after the voting deadline.

2) How did the Cavaliers blow that lead? Cleveland was in cruise control, up 26 early in the fourth quarter and coasting in for a win over the Hawks. And then the wheels came off. Cleveland took its foot off the gas and Atlanta started to chip away. The Hawks got good bench play, once again that has proven a weakness for the Cavaliers.

Still, Cleveland was up 14 points with just 3:37 left, but the Hawks went on a run and the Cleveland starters fumbled. And still the Cavaliers were up five with 10 seconds left when LeBron James — who had a triple-double — was called for the foul on a Paul Millsap three. He sank all three free throws making it a two-point game with 8.3 left. Cleveland inbounded the ball to Kyrie Irving but the Hawks trapped him in the corner and Kent Bazemore was able to tie him up forcing a jump ball with 4.8 seconds left. In a scramble after the jump ball Mike Muscala came up with it, Millsap gut the shot and tied the game at the buzzer forcing overtime.

From there, the Hawks got the win.

After the game, the Cavaliers took issue with the officiating, but that’s not what cost them the game. Their bench, their lack of ability to focus for 48 minutes cost them. They flat-out were outplayed for a quarter. And it’s games like this that make you question if they can flip the switch in the postseason.

3) Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell drains game-winner, dedicates bucket to his grandmother who passed away that morning. D'Angelo Russell spent the day trying to book a flight to Louisville, playing for the Lakers Sunday night was the last thing on his mind. He found out that morning his grandmother had passed away in Louisville, and he said he looked into booking a flight and going to be with family. Except he couldn’t get one he could make. Eventually, at the urging of his family, he decided to play Sunday night and head out Monday.

The Lakers needed him — Russell’s game-winning bounced through the rim just as time expired, giving the Lakers the win, 110-109. After the shot, Russell ran over to hug his family.

“I knew (playing was) what my grandma would have wanted,” Russell said. “My dad, brothers, and everyone wanted me to play. I wanted to get away from basketball. I didn’t want to express myself through basketball but it was the only option I had and I tried to take advantage of it.”

“I get goosebumps even talking about the way the game ended,” coach Luke Walton said. “How awesome for him on such a tough day where obviously basketball is nothing in the big picture of what he’s dealing with.”

D’Angelo Russell’s dedicates lucky-bounce game winning three to grandmother who died (VIDEO)

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LOS ANGELES — D'Angelo Russell almost didn’t play on Sunday night for the Lakers. His grandmother had passed away in Louisville, and when Russell found out Sunday morning he said he looked into booking a flight and going to be with family, but he couldn’t make the flight today so decided to play Sunday and fly out Monday.

The Lakers are happy he was there.

Russell drained a game-winning three that fell through the rim on a bounce just as time expired, giving the Lakers the win, 110-109. After the shot fell Russell ran over to hug his family. Russell said he dedicated the shot to his grandma.

“I knew (playing was) what my grandma would have wanted,” Russell said. “My dad, brothers, and everyone wanted me to play. I wanted to get away from basketball. I didn’t want to express myself through basketball but it was the only option I had and I tried to take advantage of it.”

“I get goosebumps even talking about the way the game ended,” coach Luke Walton said. “How awesome for him on such a tough day where obviously basketball is nothing in the big picture of what he’s dealing with.”

There’s a lot to unpack in this play.

Ricky Rubio has been fantastic since the All-Star break, but he had a rough night against the Lakers (after setting his career high in points the last time they played), and that included getting stuffed by Larry Nance Jr. on an off-balance layup. Andrew Wiggins (41 points) and Karl-Anthony Towns (40 points) had the hot hands, they needed to get the rock here.

Metta World Peace got a clean look at a potential game-winner from the corner first but missed it. The best part of this, watch his leg shake as he hesitates and lines up the shot. Jordan Clarkson said the team gave MWP a hard time about that in the locker room after the game.

Julius Randle chased down the odd-bounce rebounds off MWP’s miss. If you wanted to see Tom Thibodeau’s blood pressure rise postgame, all you had to do was him about the handful of offensive rebounds the Timberwolves gave up late. He said Minnesota got what it deserved in this game the way they rebounded and came out flat.

• Three Timberwolves defenders were crowded around Randle — shooting 27.9 percent from three this season — and left open Russell, shooting 35.4 percent from deep this season.

• That’s as lucky a bounce as you are going to see. Maybe grandma gave that one a little tip.