SALT LAKE CITY (AFP) — NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Jayson Tatum is turning his attention to the Boston Celtics' bid for an NBA title after scoring an All-Star Game record 55 points.
Tatum made 22-of-31 shots from the floor, 10-of-18 from 3-point range, and added 10 rebounds and six assists to spark Team Giannis over Team LeBron 184-175.
But with the showcase showdown behind him, the 24-year-old forward who is averaging 30.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists is now focused on sparking the NBA overall-leading Celtics to a crown.
"Now it's go time," Tatum said. "We've got to have one common goal and that's to win a championship. This was a good break for us mentally and physically, but it's time to get back to work."
Tatum, in his sixth NBA campaign, lifted the Celtics to the NBA Finals last season for the first time since 2010, although Boston lost to the Golden State Warriors.
He has learned how important the final weeks of the regular season can be in the overall championship chase.
"Since I've been in the league, the team that has kind of clicked in this last stretch -- has kind of peaked and played their best of the season going into the playoffs -- usually is the team that wins it all, so this stretch is important," Tatum said.
"You want to be as healthy as possible going into the playoffs. You want to be playing your best basketball, individually and as a group, so that's what we're trying to do."
At a league-best 42-17, the Celtics are just ahead of Milwaukee (41-17) atop the Eastern Conference with Philadelphia third at 38-19 followed in order by Cleveland and the Brooklyn Nets, who figure to sink after dealing away stars Kevin Durant to Phoenix and Kyrie Irving to Dallas.
Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo played only a moment due to a right wrist sprain but hopes to return for the Bucks' stretch run.
"Hopefully I can be available for my team when they need me," the Greek star said.
In the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets are just behind the Celtics for the overall lead at 41-18 with Memphis a distant second on 35-22 and Sacramento third on 32-35 followed closely by the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix and Dallas.
Serbian center Nikola Jokic, the NBA MVP each of the past two seasons who turned 28 on Sunday, is averaging a triple double for Denver with 24.7 points, 11.5 rebounds and 10.1 assists a game.
He said the Nuggets enjoy the fact that other clubs receive more attention than Denver even though they are at the top.
"We like it," Jokic said. "We don't need (attention). We know what we're doing. We believe in the basketball system that we've built over the years, so it works.
"It's still working. Nothing can affect us from outside. We are thinking about ourselves and just how to get better."
Durant likes Paul, Mavs
Phoenix and Dallas have bolstered their rosters for the stretch run with Durant joining the formidable Suns and Irving pairing with Luka Doncic for the Mavericks.
"It's going to be incredible," Durant said of the Doncic-Irving partnership. "It's going to be tough to guard them."
Durant will have Chris Paul guiding the Suns' attack from the backcourt with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton alongside him in the front line.
The former NBA and NBA Finals MVP is especially excited to play alongside veteran guard Paul, seeking his first NBA crown after he turns 38 in May.
"His IQ for the game, his enthusiasm for the game, I think that goes underrated," Durant said. "CP really loves ball. He just likes watching the game, like analyzing. Like going through strategy and stuff.
"He's always pulling me to the side and we're just talking hoop, so I love that about him.
"On the floor, he can create so much for his teammates and for himself. He's only going to help us."
The Clippers expect to add star point guard Russell Westbrook after a contract buyout to fit alongside Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.