Why Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are so dangerous


Damian Lillard is making the Portland Trail Blazers one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA

It was shades of Clyde Drexler, the way Damian Lillard took over a game for his Portland Trail Blazers against the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this week.

Slicing into the paint time and time again, Lillard scored 16 points in the fourth quarter to haul his team over a plucky Lakers outfit, which seems notably pluckier without star Kobe Bryant.

Even with Bryant’s scoring thrust however, would it have been any different?

You might fondly recall those great Blazer-Laker battles of the late eighties, in which Drexler carved through the purple and gold with daggers in his eyes. He’d glide down the floor before finishing with a flurry, and not Magic Johnson, James Worthy, nor a ceiling full of giant Laker banners could stop Drexler’s charge.

It was like that for Lillard the other night, when the young Californian put on a show in front of an excited Portland crowd. It was all action, and most of it inside the key, where the diminutive point guard bamboozled the defense on eight-of-10 shooting, according to NBA.com.

He also ended up four-of-eight from behind the arc, in a display that must have had Drexler saluting the TV with his dinner time Denny’s burger.

Lillard finished with 39 points, which was the second highest scoring performance by a Blazer against the Lakers ever, behind only, you guessed it, Drexler, who had 43 against LA in 1989, as per OregonLive.

With Lillard as Portland’s signal-caller, and continually developing into a dominant force like other Western Conference guards Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, the Blazers seem like legitimate contenders, don’t they?

I mean this is a team that can fall behind to the lowly Lakers on a random January night, when all anyone might be thinking about is getting home to watch Celebrity Apprentice, and here’s Lillard, asking his teammates to grab some pine while he goes to work.

He’s relentless like Westbrook, but perhaps more delicate with the ball, and I say that in a complimentary fashion because he manoeuvres it with a master’s touch.

Sure, Lillard can still turn on the afterburners en route to the basket like Westbrook, but he’ll also make more methodical approaches, weaving up-court with purpose, before rolling a softly spun ball high off the glass for two.

Again, it’s all a little Drexler-like, especially the way the ball rises from his hand and then tumbles from the board, or rolls off the rim, and then impossibly back down through it. It’s the type of touch you just can’t teach.

Lillard has a feel for spacing and angles away from the ball, too. In fact, I’d argue that it’s a skill he boasts over many of his point guard opponents. Certainly most playmakers can pick out a cutting teammate with a precise lob or clever bounce, but how many of them can actually stall the defense by running the same cut themselves?

Against LA, Lillard repeatedly darted into the paint, or along the baseline without the ball, realizing there were passing lanes for his teammates to find him close to the hoop.

So there’s a versatility to Lillard that makes him just as much a threat as the jet-packed Westbrook. But while Oklahoma City’s backcourt catalyst is a bundle of jumpy energy, I think there’s a distinct coolness to Lillard. He knows he can break down opponents with numerous strategies, not just fire up the engines in his sneakers.

This all bodes very well for Portland this season.

In a post-game interview with Blazers TV, Damian Lillard said he realizes anyone in the NBA can take over a game on any given night, which is why he locked in for the fourth quarter against LA. He’s not taking anything for granted, you see, and when it comes to Portland right now, nor should we.

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