Thanks in no small part to the unbelievable tear that Damian Lillard is on (48.8 points per game!), the Portland Trail Blazers seem to be getting back on track. They’ve won five of their last six, the big trade that brought in Trevor Ariza, Caleb Swanigan and Wenyen Gabriel seems to have paid off and Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic (despite a recent setback) are closer to returning.
The change in play has sparked a change in tone in how most outlets see the Blazers. What do they think of this recent explosion?
ESPN’s Royce Young has the Blazers smack in the middle at 15th, highlighting the absolute absurdity of Lillard and his insistence on getting Portland back into the postseason.
Beginning with his career-high 61 points on Jan. 20, Damian Lillard’s past six games look like this: 61, 47, 50, 36, 48, 51. With 61 assists. Lillard isn’t on another planet right now; he’s in another galaxy. Nobody cooks like Lillard. You have to pick him up somewhere between the parking garage and the locker room, or he’ll pop you for a 37-footer. But even more than the ridiculous raw numbers, Portland’s record in the past six games looks like this: WLWWWW. Lillard is doing what it takes to get his team back in the postseason conversation, as the Blazers are now just 1.5 games back of the 8-seed.
Michael Shapiro of Sports Illustrated ranked the Blazers 14th, noting that this shift from a lost year to a playoff push might call for an upgrade at the power forward spot.
Has Damian Lillard’s hot stretch changed Portland’s deadline thinking? What was previously a lost year has become a furious fight for a playoff spot, and the Blazers still need an upgrade at the four. Kevin Love feels like a pipe dream. Danilo Gallinari would be a terrific fit.
Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes put Portland 16th in his rankings, writing they should be buyers at the deadline with their recent success.
Damian Lillard “only” managed 36 points in Portland’s 125-112 win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, a slow night for a guy whose previous three scoring totals were 61, 47 and 50. But the meager 36 points came in Dame’s first career triple-double, so nobody will accuse him of slacking.
Things got back to normal when he scored 48 points in the Blazers’ 127-119 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in L.A. on Friday. Then, he put up 51 more to beat the Jazz on Saturday. Add all that up and Lillard averaged 48.8 points and 10.2 assists over a six-game span.
That’s not something that happens. Like, ever.
Portland is on a four-game winning streak, leaving several playoff-bound opponents in the rubble of Lillard’s destructive scoring. The Blazers had to climb this week, mainly at the expense of the tumbling Rockets.
The Athletic’s Jason Quick reported Jusuf Nurkic suffered a calf strain in his rehab, which had progressed to full-court work, this past week. Uncertainty surrounding Nurkic’s return should be a factor in Portland’s deadline thinking.
Hassan Whiteside’s $27.1 million expiring salary would make him difficult to trade under any circumstances, but if Nurkic won’t be back to man the center spot, the Blazers probably can’t sustain their playoff hopes unless they swap Whiteside for another big.
Trevor Ariza has been better than Kent Bazemore was, so the Blazers are already in the black on their in-season trades. Maybe that’ll encourage them to swing another mid-tier deal. It doesn’t seem like anything of real consequence (like a core-busting CJ McCollum trade) is on the horizon.
Finally, Collin Ward-Henniger of CBS Sports has the Blazers as his highest riser from 20th to 14th, singing the praises of one Damian Lillard.
There are simply no adjectives to describe what Damian Lillard is doing right now. Over his last six games he’s averaging 48.8(!) points, 10.2 assists, and 7.2 rebounds. He’s also made over eight 3-pointers per game over that stretch on a ridiculous 57 percent shooting from beyond the arc — many of them WAY beyond the arc. Most importantly, the Blazers have won five of those six games and are suddenly just a game and a half back of the final Western Conference playoff spot. In case anyone had forgotten, Lillard is proving once again that he is a special, special player.
The Blazers are back in action on Tuesday against the Denver Nuggets. Tip-off is at 6 p.m. PT.