Damian Lillard torches Warriors for career-high 61 points, and somehow the Blazers are right in playoff mix
Portland is just two games out of a playoff spot but it has a murderous schedule coming up
In what has, to this point, been the worst Trail Blazers season in recent memory, it's ironic that it has arguably been Damian Lillard's best. Entering Monday, Lillard was averaging career highs in both points (27.1) and assists (7.6) per game, field-goal percentage (44.6) and effective field-goal percentage (53.5), while also getting to the free-throw line a career high 7.6 times per game.
Those numbers went up considerably after Monday.
In Portland's 129-124 overtime victory over the visiting Warriors, Lillard dropped a career-high 61 points on 17-of-37 shooting, including 11 of 20 from three and a perfect 16 for 16 from the line. He added 10 rebounds and seven assists for good measure, and he committed just two turnovers. As we've all come to take for granted, he hit a barrage of absurdly difficult 3-pointers with the game in the balance -- including these two beauties to tie the score in the waning seconds of regulation, and then again in the final minute of overtime.
Per ESPN, only six players in NBA history have logged two or more 60-point games in their career. Lillard has done it twice this season. The other came in a loss to Brooklyn on Nov. 8. It tells you what Lillard is up against this season that he had to score 121 combined points for the Blazers to barely beat the Warriors and lose to the Nets.
Portland has been decimated by injuries. Jusuf Nurkic has been out all season. Zach Collins has played in just three games. Rodney Hood went down for the season on Dec. 6. Now Skal Labissiere is on the shelf. The Blazers just traded Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver to the Kings for Trevor Ariza. It's a clear attempt to acquire a wing capable of elite defensive matchups, though it's debatable whether Ariza can still be that guy in a potential playoff series against, say, Kawhi Leonard.
Portland created this glaring hole on its roster when it let Al-Farouq Aminu walk to Orlando and traded Moe Harkless this summer. Things got so desperate with the injuries that they brought in Carmelo Anthony and immediately asked him to be a core player -- and by just about any standard, all things considered, that move has been a success.
Now here the Blazers are, somehow, just two games back of a playoff spot entering play Tuesday. You'd never guess it from their 19-26 record, but after the No. 7 seed -- currently occupied by the Thunder -- the Western Conference falls off a cliff. The Grizzlies are the No. 8 seed as of Tuesday with a 20-23 mark.
Portland isn't exactly playing well of late. Again, the Blazers barely got past the Warriors, and prior to that they'd lost 10 of their previous 14 games. And now they enter a murderous schedule stretch with eight of their next nine games coming against upper-tier playoff teams -- including dates with Mavericks, Pacers, Rockets, Lakers, Nuggets, Heat and the Jazz twice. Right in the middle of that stretch is the Feb. 6 trade deadline. We'll see if the Blazers make any other moves, and if they can at least tread water until some lighter competition shows up.
The only thing we know for sure is Lillard is going to do his part.
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