In the Damian Lillard era, it’s become almost commonplace for the Portland Trail Blazers to hit their stride and begin playing their best basketball following the All-Star break. As Sam Amick of The Athletic notes, should the Blazers continue that trend, it could have an added benefit: the boost that Lillard needs to amplify his Most Valuable Player candidacy.
Lillard moved up one spot on Amick’s updated ladder. He praised the Blazers’ never-back-down spirit and Lillard’s leadership in guiding that mentality. The former Weber State star has appeared in 45 of 47 games, helping Portland overcome a long list of injuries to feature players. That bodes well, too, given that historically, Lillard and his teammates have found an extra gear in the second half of the year—normally out of necessity.
With CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic back in tow, Amick sees potential for the Blazers to string wins together and make Lillard’s candidacy more undeniable:
“Now here comes the fun part for Lillard & Co.: McCollum returned recently from the fractured foot suffered on Jan. 14 and instantly got back to his old hoops tricks, and Nurkic is now three games into his return from the right wrist fracture that sidelined him on Jan. 14. Portland, in other words, is in prime position to make a surge while aiding Lillard’s MVP campaign in the process.”
The Blazers’ renewed depth and Lillard’s blue-collar availability could be the story of the season’s second-half. Of the players Amick mentioned, Lillard is among the only three to have played in at least 90 percent of their team’s games.
You read the full story from Amick at The Athletic (subscription required).