When the Portland Trail Blazers welcome the Brooklyn Nets to town on Friday night, all eyes will be on the respective back-courts. Point guards Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving are two of the best in the business, and while both have had successful careers, they are viewed very differently in most NBA circles.
Lillard is regarded among the best leaders in basketball, if not all of professional sports, while Irving sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Boston Celtics notably performed better in his absence, and he has failed to make his teammates better around him in each of his previous stops. It’s still early in his Brooklyn tenure, but things have already gotten off a bit of a rocky start, according to a recent report.
On the court, however, both players are at the top of their game, with each averaging over 30 points and seven assists per game to date. Lillard is shooting a slightly higher percentage from both the field (49% vs. 47%) and from three (40% vs. 38%), but Irving has had the top performance—scoring 50 points in his Nets debut.
Irving has an impressive cast around him, with Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince and Spencer Dinwiddie all scoring in double-figures, along with the likes of DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen up front. There’s certainly going to pressure on Kyrie and company to improve on last season’s improbable playoff run, despite the fact that they’ll be without Kevin Durant all season. They’ve still got enough talent to do so in a top-heavy Eastern Conference, and a successful, drama-free year in Brooklyn would go a long way towards repairing Irving’s public image.
Lillard, on the other hand, will now look to keep the injury-riddled Blazers alive in what looks to be a crowded Western Conference playoff race. Friday’s match-up will be just the team’s third home game of the season, as well as the second of a back-to-back. This will mark an early test of the team’s resilience, particularly in the wake of the injury to Zach Collins.
Despite the fact that we’re not yet a month into the new NBA season. This weekend’s match-up seems like an important game for both teams to try to make a statement against a fellow playoff-caliber team. Both clubs have gotten off to disappointing starts this season, but their ceiling remains high. Expect both Lillard and Irving to try and bring the best out of each other as they each look to will their team to victory in the face of scrutiny.
As this is the only scheduled trip the Nets make to Portland this season, Friday night will be your only chance to catch these two go head-to-head at Moda Center (they meet up for the final time March 30th in Brooklyn). You can buy tickets from StubHub here.
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