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Damian Lillard Drives and Moe Harkless Hammers: Mom’s Favorites

Damian Lillard drives, Maurice Harkless finishes in the restricted area, and Jusuf Nurkic encourages his teammates are all Mom’s Favorites this week.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, Team Mom highlights her favorites plays, players and other things that made the Trail Blazers fun to watch. Who is Mom’s Favorite this week? Did anyone get put in the dog house? What were your favorite things this week? Let us know in the comments below.

Week 21 March 3-9. Charlotte Hornets (W), Memphis Grizzlies (L), Oklahoma City Thunder (L), Phoenix Suns (W)

Mr. Team Mom and I traveled to Memphis, Tennessee this week where we took in soul music and soul food, visited the Civil Rights Museum, and watched the Trail Blazers play the Memphis Grizzlies on the last game of their epic seven game road trip.

Then we drove to Nashville where we checked out the country music scene, feasted on BBQ, and watched the Blazers fall to the Thunder while drinking with cowboys in a honky tonk bar. (No pictures available.)

Finally, we crashed a Grizzlies watch party where I won a Chandler Parsons yoga mat (!) and cheered them on because, well, we love it when anyone beats the Utah Jazz.

Because of all this travel, this week’s Mom’s Favorite won’t include Saturday night’s game. I will just assume Jake Layman breaks out of his scoring slump (he’s averaging 5.8 points per game in March, compared to 11.9 per game in February) by going for 30 points on 78% shooting against his favorite opponent, the Phoenix Suns.

Mom’s Favorite

Damian Lillard drives. There is a new L-Train in town, the Lillard Train. I know that name used to be reserved for LaMarcus Aldridge, but every time Damian Lillard gets a full head of steam and drives straight to the basket he reminds me of a runaway freight train going full-speed down the track.

This has become an almost automatic bucket for Lillard. He’s averaging 17.7 points per game on drives this week, well over his season average of 12.6. Through four games against Oklahoma City this season, he averaged 19. Lillard seems to have mastered the tricks needed to beat slower defenders while earning enough of a reputation to keep other defenders from swiping at him and risking a foul.

Gold Star

Maurice Harkless getting things done under the basket. To be honest, this is a bit of a when life gives you lemons make lemonade type situation, except where it’s actually really good lemonade and it might be that lemonade was what you needed anyway.

I would still love it if Harkless could shoot 40 percent from the three point line but that is just not happening right now. The drop-off he has experienced as a three point threat has been troubling, but to his credit he has found other ways to contribute on the court.

From January to March, Harkless’s scoring average actually jumped from 6.8 to 8.3 to 9.8 points per game even as his three point shooting percentage took a nosedive (25 percent in January and February, 12.5 percent in March).

A big reason for the uptick is because he’s been finishing well in the restricted area (64.8 percent this season, compared to 59.5 percent last season), either fighting through coverage directly underneath the basket or cutting to the rim. Both of these scenarios are well-suited for his athleticism.

Another thing I like about many of these highlights is Jusuf Nurkic’s reactions when Harkless makes the bucket. I think I have mentioned before how much Nurkic seems to admire and even sometimes emulate Damian Lillard. His encouragement of Harkless looks a lot like when Lillard encourages his teammates. Nurkic and Harkless find themselves under the basket together a lot these days, with Nurkic eating up space and boxing out opponents to give Harkless more room to operate. It’s a pairing that has been fun to watch develop.

Honorable Mentions

This week saw the celebration of International Women’s Day. Casey Holdahl’s conversation with Damian Lillard shed light on Lillard’s attitude about women as teachers and leaders in the NBA. Lillard admits that as someone who was raised by strong women, he makes it a practice to seek advice from and work with women who are coaches or are in other leadership positions in the league.

Speaking of international Women’s Day, this profile of Blazers sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam is every bit as charming and inspiring as the lady herself.

Good for Skal Labissiere who stepped into the game ice cold on Thursday night to attempt two free throws. As was their right, the Thunder selected him to shoot for Jusuf Nurkic after the center was ejected. That’s a tough situation to be thrown into and Labissiere handled it well. After missing the first, he was reportedly instructed to miss the second one. Al-Farouq Aminu grabbed the offensive rebound according to plan, was fouled, and then made both his free throws to tie the game. (I had just closed down a bar on Nashville’s Broadway Street at the time and was struggling to follow the game on my phone with a very slow data connection. Mr. Team Mom noted that Labissiere and Aminu demonstrated more grace under pressure than I did.)

Speaking of Aminu, How Could You Be So Al-Farouq A-Harkless Photo of the Week:

Staying healthy. Taking care of yourself during the NBA season is no easy task. As John Schuhmann of recently pointed out, the Blazers starting lineup (including Harkless) have played more minutes together than any other 5-man lineup in the league, which can be attributed to the starters outside of Harkless missing only 3 games combined.

That will do it for this week’s Mom’s Favorites! Time to board the plane and come home. What were your favorite things to happen with the Portland Trail Blazers this week? Let us know in the comments below.