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Lillard lifts Blazers into playoff picture with 61 vs. Mavericks

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has averaged 37 points per game in seven contests since the 2020 NBA season resumed in July in Orlando, Fla. Photo by Erik Lesser/EPA-EFE
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has averaged 37 points per game in seven contests since the 2020 NBA season resumed in July in Orlando, Fla. Photo by Erik Lesser/EPA-EFE

Aug. 12 (UPI) -- Damian Lillard left defenders in the dust and set the nets on fire for a second consecutive game with a 61-point barrage to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to a win over the Dallas Mavericks in Orlando, Fla.

Lillard matched his career high and made 17 of 32 field goal attempts in the 134-131 triumph Tuesday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex inside Walt Disney World Resort. He also made 9 of 17 shots from 3-point range, 18 of 18 free throw attempts, and had eight assists and five rebounds in the win.

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"I don't live my life or play the game to the standards or expectations of other people," Lillard told reporters.

"I do it for the reasons that I love: to compete for the brotherhood, the connection to my teammates, coaches, staff and fans."

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Lillard's huge night came just two days after he scored 51 points in a win against the Philadelphia 76ers. His hot streak has lifted the Blazers into the playoff picture as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference standings.

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The Blazers have a 5-2 record since they entered the league's protective bubble. Lillard has averaged 37 points, 9.3 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game in the seven games since the NBA season resumed in the bubble after the campaign was suspended in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"I'm going out there thinking I'm going to do whatever I have to do to win these games," Lillard said.

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Lillard scored a dozen points to lead the Blazers to a 38-31 lead in the first quarter. He added 13 points in the second frame to lead the Blazers to a 66-58 edge at halftime. Lillard poured in 14 points in the third frame, but the Mavericks cut the Blazers' lead to 98-95 as the clash entered the fourth quarter.

The Blazers and Mavericks exchanged the lead several times in the final frame before Lillard tied the score at 130-130 with a 3-pointer with 1:29 remaining. Lillard then assisted a Hassan Whiteside dunk with 59.1 seconds remaining to take the lead. Portland won the game powered by Lillard's 22 points over the final 12 minutes.

Lillard and NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain now are the only two players to score at least 60 points three times in one season. Chamberlain scored at least 60 points nine times in 1962-1963 and 15 times in 1961-1962.

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Lillard scored 60 points Nov. 8 against the Brooklyn Nets. He posted 61 points Jan. 20 against the Golden State Warriors.

"Nobody came into the bubble and wanted to make the playoffs more than 'Dame,'" Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.

"We have one more game to go, but his leadership and game speaks for itself. He is bringing the team along with him."

The Blazers (34-39) battle the Nets in their final seeding game at 9 p.m. EDT Thursday in Orlando. The Mavericks (43-31) face the Phoenix Suns at 4 p.m. EDT Tuesday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.

The 2020 NBA playoffs start Aug. 17 and the NBA Finals are scheduled to start Sept. 30.

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