Terry Stotts described it as “the best stretch in franchise history.” Carmelo Anthony called it something that “basketball fans haven’t seen in a long time.” Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has undoubtedly been playing some of the best basketball of his NBA career as of late, and it doesn't look like he is slowing down anytime soon.
Over the past few weeks Lillard led an undermanned Blazers team to wins over the Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, and Utah Jazz while scoring 61, 50, 33 (triple-double), 48, and 51 points respectively. During this now weeks-long stretch Lillard has set both league and franchise records that could take a while to be broken again. In his most recent game against the Utah Jazz, Lillard garnered some of the loudest MVP chants in recent Moda Center history (led by his teammate C.J McCollum) as he erupted for 51 points, capping off a two-day stretch in which he scored 99 points and doled out 22 assists.
Recently, The Ringer’s Rob Mahoney tried to put into words exactly what Lillards torrid stretch has meant to the Blazers; explaining to rest of country why they should tune into Damian Lillard and the Blazers on a nightly basis during this torrid stretch.
This is no longer a scoring explosion. It’s a goddamn inferno. All scorched earth and singed eyebrows, which, under the circumstances, is exactly what the Trail Blazers have so desperately needed. Portland reworked its roster coming into this season only to see it unbalanced by injury—not only to Jusuf Nurkic, who has been out since March, but Zach Collins, and Rodney Hood, and Skal Labissière.
Of course, Mahoney compared the five-time NBA All-Star to the Warriors’ Stephen Curry; the last player that seemed capable of putting together a stretch of games like this when he won back-to-back MVP’s in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Pulling up beyond 30 feet is not only viable for Lillard but legitimately dangerous. It is a terror upon the guards who are asked to check Lillard, and upon the bigs who are expected to step up to meet him at the point of the screen. The whole premise is a recipe for reaction and overreaction. If Lillard can bait his opponents into chasing ghosts out near half court, he invalidates the logic behind pretty much every defensive system out there.
Finally, Mahoney discussed how Lillard’s recent performances impact the entire team beyond just a number in the box score.
Portland has its limits, as a team, but the basic proposition of its offense is enough to put opponents in a bind. All Lillard has to do is tighten it: first with range shooting and hard drives, and then by busting any overeager defenders by setting up his teammates. Forty points in, Lillard won’t hesitate to swing a pass to Gary Trent Jr. for a 3 or make the easy outlet that could lead to a score down the line without any direct credit. In turn, those teammates enable Lillard to do what needs to be done. There is an evident and mutual trust among the Blazers that allows not only for this kind of scoring run but for so many of Lillard’s high-scoring games to play out as wins.
Lillard, who was just named the Western Conference Player of the Week, will have yet another opportunity to add to his historic run tomorrow when the Blazers travel to Denver to take on Nikola Jokic and the 34-16 Denver Nuggets. If Portland wants to leave one of the NBA’s toughest venues with a win, they will almost certainly need Lillard to put on yet another unreal performance.
You can check out the rest of Mahoney’s piece on The Ringer.