While star point guard Damian Lillard’s 71-point performance was historic, it falls under the category of roundly abusing the league’s worst team, ergo not enough to lift Portland’s overall outlook in one fell swoop. At least according to NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and The Athletic’s Zach Harper.
Here is what they had to say about the Trail Blazers in Week 20.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. 22 (previously No. 20)
Donovan Mitchell’s 71 points in January came against a better defensive team and in higher-leverage possessions. But Damian Lillard’s 71 points on Sunday came in almost 11 fewer minutes of playing time. Lillard is one of six players who’ve made 12 3-pointers in a game and now he’s one of three – Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the others – who’ve done it multiple times. But in the 10 seasons of tracking data, he’s the only guy who’s made more than 10 pull-up 3s in a game, with his 11 (on 20 attempts) on Sunday matching his the 11 pull-up 3s he made in a double-overtime playoff loss two years ago. (James Harden is the only other player who’s made 10 pull-up 3s in a game, according to Second Spectrum tracking.)
Lillard also scored 16 points in the paint and another 14 at the free-throw line on Sunday. It was noted in this space a few weeks ago that the greatness of the season he’s having is about how he can shoot from deep, but also blow by defenders who try to take away his pull-up. He’s now at 15.8 drives per game, the most he’s averaged in those 10 seasons of tracking data. His field goal percentage in the paint (60.6%) and his free throw rate (44.7 attempts per 100 shots from the field) are both the best marks of his career by wide margins. Lillard’s true shooting percentage of 65.4% would be the third-highest mark in NBA history for a player averaging at least 30 points per game (83 instances), topped only by two Curry seasons (2015-16 and 2020-21).
Alas, with a historic season from their star, the Blazers are still two games under .500 and in 12th place in the Western Conference. They have seven games remaining against the four teams currently in Play-In position, with two of those (at Golden State, vs. New Orleans) being their Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back, the start of their second (and final) stretch of five games in seven days. Their third (and final) six-game trip of the season begins in Atlanta on Friday.
Zach Harper, The Athletic: No. 22 (previously No. 20)
The Blazers still haven’t managed to catch fire at any point this season, even as Damian Lillard has been torching everybody, including Sunday night’s legendary 71-point masterpiece. Their longest win streak is four, and that was at the literal start of the season. Portland has a top-five offense, but their bottom-four defense is just frustrating. Maybe it’s going to be impossible to have a solid defense, just like it was with Lillard and CJ McCollum. Jerami Grant can’t pull this thing together by himself. And their offense is great but not great enough to give them a winning record. Does Joe Cronin have a plan for the summer to balance things out better? Does Chauncey Billups have a scheme to fix things with a different group? They just seem stuck.
Prediction update: Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons combine to average at least 50.0 points per game… Thanks to Dame for making this one super easy to attain. His scoring surge has this duo at 53.7 points per game on the season. Simons has done well, but Dame is inching toward the scoring title.