PORTLAND — So what’s next for Kenny Hayes and the Maine Red Claws?

Following Hayes’ franchise-record 52-point outburst in Sunday’s 118-113 win over the Springfield Armor at the Portland Expo, what can he and his teammates possibly do to top that?

Keep winning, of course.

The Red Claws (15-22) need to make a big push if they’re going to get into the NBA Development League playoffs for the first time. The Red Claws play at Erie at 11 a.m. today, followed by games at Fort Wayne (Thursday) and Canton (Saturday) before returning home to play first-place Iowa Sunday.

Erie (18-17) currently holds the final D-League playoff spot, four games ahead of the Claws.

“Sunday was just one of those nights when I was feeling it,” said Hayes, who raised his scoring average from 15.1 points per game to 16.3. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a zone like that. But now I’ve got to forget about that Springfield game.

“I don’t see myself going out there and just jacking up shots and trying to get points. I’m the point guard. I’ve got to limit my turnovers and get my teammates involved.”

Red Claws Coach Dave Leitao is glad to hear that. But he wasn’t too concerned.

“It’s not in Kenny’s personality that he feels he’s going to have to go out there and get 30 points,” he said before leaving for Erie Monday morning. “He’s humble and a very respectful person. I’m sure, once we get into the game, it’s going to be business as usual.”

Sunday night was anything but. Trailing Springfield by seven entering the fourth quarter, Hayes led the comeback by scoring 26 of Maine’s 42 points in the final 12 minutes. At one point, he scored 17 consecutive points:

Going left, he hit a short jumper and was fouled. He hit the foul shot, making it 100-93 Maine.

Again going hard left, he pulled up for a 12-footer, 102-95.

Pushing the ball on the break, he hit a pull-up jumper from the foul line, 104-95.

In the flow, he hit a straight-on 3-pointer, with a Springfield defender on him, 107-98.

Morris Almond (who scored 31 points but no one noticed) found Hayes for a 3-pointer from the left wing, 110-101.

Pushing the ball to the left elbow, he pulled up for a jumper, 112-102.

Grabbing a defensive rebound, he pushed the ball to the left and was fouled. With the crowd giving him a standing ovation, Hayes hit both free throws, 114-102, 1:31 left.

Those would be his final points, leaving him one shy of tying the D-League record co-held by Almond. “It’s one of those things that just happens in the natural flow,” said Almond, of Hayes’ outburst. “The good thing is that it came in a comeback victory and that just adds to the excitement of the night.”

It was Maine’s second win in three nights over second-place Springfield, and should give them a boost heading into this pivotal stretch. But Leitao doesn’t want them thinking too far ahead.

“We’re just trying to get better,” said Leitao. “If we look at it like this big playoff picture, it can be difficult. We’ve just got to play better defense, rebound better, execute better. If we do that, the score will take care of itself and the rest will take care of itself.”

The fact that the Red Claws’ roster has finally stabilized – only six player transactions since Feb. 2 – should be beneficial.

“We’re all guys who now know each other’s game,” said Hayes. “We’re starting to understand our roles. We know who the go-to guys are. The bench is playing well.

“I’m definitely happy and proud how this team has built team chemistry.”

NOTES: Hayes and Almond shared the D-League Performer of the Week honors. Hayes not only set the team record with 52 points, but also for field goals attempted (29) and made (18) and tied the team record for made foul shots (12). Almond scored 34 points in Friday’s win over Springfield.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH