The Dallas Mavericks head into their final two regular-season games looking to pin down playoff positioning, a mission that begins Friday night at home against the Toronto Raptors.
Dallas (41-29) is getting hot ahead of the postseason, picking up its fifth win in six games and eighth over the past 10 with a 125-107 defeat of the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.
Luka Doncic led the way with 33 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and Tim Hardaway Jr. added 27 points.
Hardaway's performance continued a strong spell for the eight-year veteran wing. He is averaging 26 points per game in his past eight appearances, including outings of a career-high 42 points on April 29 against Detroit and 36 points in a May 4 win at Miami.
Hardaway's scoring uptick coincided with a move into the starting lineup for seven of those eight games.
"The game naturally flows better," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of the difference in starting versus coming off the bench, during his postgame press conference on Wednesday. "You go right from warm-ups to the flow of the game."
"With Tim, the proof is in a sample size of well over a year," Carlisle added. "When he was starting last year, he had a great flow. He started early this year, we made a change to go to more of a defensive lineup. ... He was willing to do it. That's one reason I'm willing to make other changes in the lineup."
One lineup change for Dallas heading into the postseason is the return of Kristaps Porzingis to the rotation. Porzingis missed 10 of the past 11 games, first due to a left ankle sprain then with soreness in his right knee.
Porzingis scored 19 points and grabbed five rebounds in 22 minutes of play Wednesday.
Porzingis scored a team-high 23 points, while Doncic posted just 15 and Hardaway went scoreless when Dallas last faced Toronto (27-43) in January.
The Raptors' 116-93 win in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 18 was part of a stretch in which they won five of six. With a 114-102 loss Thursday in Chicago, Toronto dropped its fifth straight and eighth loss in the past 10.
Stanley Johnson recorded a career-high 35 points to go with another career-high of six made 3-pointers, 10 rebounds and five assists in Thursday's first leg of a back-to-back. It marked Johnson's first double-digit points since notching 12 on April 18 against Oklahoma City.
"As a kid I asked, 'God, can you just please put me on an NBA team and if I can run the bench for 10 years I'll be the happiest [person] in the world?' And you get to 24 and you start getting ungrateful for things," Johnson said in his postgame news conference. "For me, it's all about being grateful."
Johnson entered Thursday's game averaging 3.3 points in just a little more than 15 minutes per game.
With Toronto eliminated from contention for a play-in tournament spot, Raptors coach Nick Nurse ran with a young starting lineup in Chicago. Johnson started alongside Yuta Watanabe and Khem Birch, along with rookies Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris.
Meanwhile, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher (injury management), Aron Baynes (foot), Rodney Hood (hand), Kyle Lowry (scheduled rest), Pascal Siakam (shoulder) and Paul Watson (knee) were scratched on Thursday.
--Field Level Media