Damian Lillard gives the Portland Trail Blazers a fight chance vs. Lakers

NBA Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
NBA Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

Damian Lillard gives the Portland Trail Blazers a chance against the Lakers

Damian Lillard is the best scoring point guard in basketball. Over these last four games following a disappointing loss to the LA Clippers, Lillard has been on an absolute tear not seen since the likes of Kobe Bryant in the mid-2000s.

Lillard went on to score 51, 61, 42, and 31 points over the next four games to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to the playoffs as a very dangerous 8th seed. Perhaps motivated by some Twitter insults from Paul George and Patrick Beverley, Lillard proved he is an elite talent capable of extraordinary scoring feats and clutch shot-making.

Lillard is the best in the league at coming off screens with the ball and going right into his shot behind the 3-point line. Lillard is also excellent at drawing fouls around the 3-point line because as soon as he feels any contact he’s going up for the shot and most of the time he’s rewarded with three foul shots.

Lillard is also excellent at splitting the double team and getting all the way to the rim as he repeatedly drew fouls on Kristaps Porzingis during his virtuoso 61-point performance against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Brooklyn Nets were so desperate in trying to get the ball out of his hands that they were doubling him beyond half court and were a Caris LeVert jumper away from winning that game. Lillard showed off his ridiculous range by pulling up at the halfcourt logo and draining the shot because the Nets were playing a defense designed to make Lillard pass, yet he still managed to score 42 points.

It’s not like Lillard is a ball hog, but a pull up 3 from Lillard is one of the best shots the Trail Blazers can take. For the 2019-20 season, Lillard averaged 30 points and 8 assists on 40 percent shooting from 3, all career-high numbers and garnered the NBA Bubble MVP award.

Players like CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony, Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Trent Jr. will need to continue taking the pressure off Lillard to score so often. The main weakness on this team is their defense as they struggle to string together stops and will need to improve on this against the Los Angeles Lakers in their first-round playoff matchup.

Even though the Trail Blazers won four-straight games they still allowed 121, 131, 133, and 122 points in those wins. The Trail Blazers have the 6th best offense averaging 115.12 points per game, but the 26th rated defense allowing 116.20 ppg. However, the Lakers have looked disjointed since the NBA resumed play in the bubble and will definitely have a challenge facing the in rhythm Trail Blazers.

But, the Trail Blazers don’t have the personnel to match up with LeBron James and he should have an excellent series. Jusuf Nurkic and Hassan Whiteside lack the foot speed to effectively guard Anthony Davis meaning that James and Davis should have success against an inferior defensive team. Lillard gives them a fighting chance because the Lakers don’t have great pick-and-roll coverage and without Avery Bradley’s perimeter defense, Lillard could have huge scoring numbers.

The Lakers’ recent performances don’t exactly inspire confidence with a disappointing loss to the Indiana Pacers, 116-111 in a game that T.J. Warren went off for 39 points. Their defense had no answer for Warren who has played exceptionally well in the bubble and is not a good sign when going up against Lillard who can score in so many ways.

Their next game, a 124-121 win over the Denver Nuggets was also concerning. The Lakers’ main players with James and Davis in the game could barely beat a Nuggets finishing lineup of Monte Morris, PJ Dozier, Bol Bol, Keita Bates-Diop, and Mason Plumlee. Give credit to the Nuggets’ bench for competing, but the Lakers shouldn’t be giving up 33 4th quarter points to that lineup. A Kyle Kuzma game-winning three saved the Lakers from an embarrassing loss and showed their vulnerabilities as they continue to miss the stability that Avery Bradley (opted out) and Rajon Rondo (hand injury) provided.

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Conversely, the return from injuries for Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic has bolstered the Trail Blazers’ front line. However, Zach Collins has been ruled out for Game 1 against the Lakers after suffering a left ankle injury during their play-in game against the Memphis Grizzlies. This is not your normal 1 vs. 8 seed matchup and if the Trail Blazers can play better defense they’ll give themselves a chance against the top-heavy Lakers. Carmelo Anthony could be the X-factor since he has been hitting clutch shots for the Trail Blazers down the stretch of close games.