Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard key to playoff hopes
Despite his recent injury, Damian Lillard is among the league’s most in-form players, and holds the key to Portland’s postseason fortunes.
Damian Lillard is one of the most in-form players in the league right now, and is dominating for the Blazers who have all but locked up the third seed in the Western Conference. But it is the form of Lillard which has propelled the Blazers into such a position, and it is particularly how well he has performed in the second half of the season that has made headlines.
Lillard has been astounding in the second half of the season, backed up by claiming three Player of the Week awards in the Western Conference since the new year. Over the last two months, however, is where Lillard has taken the league by storm.
In March, Lillard put up averages of 27.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.1 steals. During that month, Lillard also made Trail Blazers history, setting the franchise record for consecutive free throws made with 64 from March 12 to March 30, which is an astonishing feat.
He was also awarded the Player of the Week on two occasions in what was arguably the best month of his career, the first coming in the week of March 5-11. Lillard led the league in scoring for the week with 34.7 points, along with 3.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
More recently, however, he was awarded Player of the Week through March 26 and April 1, and although the points average wasn’t as high as his previous award, it’s the influence in the games he played which sees him as one of the hottest players in the league right now.
Player of the week 3/26 – 4/1
Over the course of the week, Lillard had the highest scoring average in the NBA with 28.3 points (46.9% FG, 25.9% 3-PT, 94.7% FT), along with 6.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists as he led Portland to their fifth consecutive playoffs appearance.
The Trail Blazers went 3-1 for the week, though Lillard did miss the one game which happened to be the loss to the Grizzlies, meaning they were undefeated with their lynchpin on the floor. The Trail Blazers recorded wins over OKC, the Pelicans and the Clippers in that week, but it was Lillard’s match against New Orleans that provided the highlight.
With his side trailing by four points after the third quarter against the Pelicans, Lillard went ballistic in the final term, putting up an astonishing 20 of his 41 points in that time. That went with nine rebounds, six assists and four steals as the win marked the Blazers’ seventh straight road victory.
Lillard’s form in March isn’t just a one off. He was also red-hot in February and narrowly missed on being awarded the Western Conference Player of the Month. He averaged 31.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.2 points over the course of February, proving he is heating up at the right time leading into the playoffs.
While a recent sprained ankle has sidelined the Trail Blazers star, Lillard is expected to return to action in the coming days. There is no doubt that will be welcome relief for a Portland side that might just pull off an upset or two in the playoffs should Lillard return to his best.
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