The season for the Portland TrailBlazers could be going a lot better. They find themselves with a losing record, and some of their core pieces have not yet committed to long-term deals. The play of their starting center is declining, and the bench hasn’t been too good for them.
The one thing they still have going in a positive direction, aside from the breakout of Anfernee Simons, is Damian Lillard. Portland’s NBA championship odds aren’t all that promising at the moment, but they are still fighting and clawing to put their names in the mix. Let’s talk about Dame, though, and the incredible season he has been having.
Back In The All-Star Game
An honor that was well-deserved, Damian Lillard was named an All-Star star for the seventh time in his storied career this week. The season he has been having has been his best to date, which is saying a lot about a guy that can score as well as any player in the history of the league. He owns the third most 60-point games (5) in the game’s storied existence.
Dame did it most recently against the Utah Jazz a week ago, topping the 60-point plateau on an immaculate 21-29 from the floor. The threes have been going. He has been averaging 31 points per contest and is a huge reason that Portland hasn’t yet bottomed out this season. Few guards in the league aside from Luka Doncic have impressed more than Lillard has to this point.
While there were some definite snubs from the 2023 midseason classic, #0 absolutely deserved his spot. Overall, he’s averaged 31-4-7 across 40 appearances. He overcame another early season injury to turn things around in the best way possible. It’s helped that Simons has been shooting the ball incredibly well, ranking top-three in NBA in three-point shots made.
But, still. Lillard had an impressive sidekick in CJ McCollum before. Now he just has another. But he is clearly the alpha of the team. In his last 11 games, Lillard has attempted a whopping 136 free throws. And he has been able to make 129 of them. He is showing an aggressiveness to get to the basket we haven’t seen from him before, and he’s converting every time. He’s at 91% for the year.
Proving The Doubters Wrong
In today’s NBA, it’s all about winning, and stats really mean less. The public has long chastised Damian’s decision to remain with the Trailblazers rather than try and seek a move to a team that has a better chance at winning the title. He has been with them for 11 years now and will be turning 33 later this season.
He has but one appearance in the conference finals during this time but has been arguably the most impactful player in the history of a franchise that has had some real stars over the years. It began with him and LaMarcus Aldridge and morphed into the Dame-CJ show. Now, it’s about Dame and Simons, with Jerami Grant making positive contributions during his first campaign on the team.
The future is a bit bleak for this team, but for right now, they remain in the thick of the playoff race in an extremely tight Western Conference. Lillard has been at his best, and without him, it would end up being like a season ago, falling outside all of it. 31 points and seven assists a night for your 32-year-old point guard is incredible. He’s not only great on the floor but is regarded among the best NBA rappers, too.
Going by the moniker Dame Dolla, he has released a few albums. He has been more focused on the games themselves this season, though, and it has shown. The levels he is reaching are impressive, even for his high standards. Can they finally get over the hump and stun people out West?
Projecting Portland’s Finish in the West
If the playoffs started today, Portland would be on the outside looking in. But, because of how close everything is, they are just two games out of the #5 seed. Every game played in the last month of the season is going to have an impact on who’s in and who’s out.
A safe bet for them would be a 7-8 finish and a trip to the play-in. Lillard is good enough to guide his team out of that tournament and into the real thing.