The comparisons between Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard always were silly and quickly grew tiresome. Not anymore.
Evidence of credible debate will be on display Wednesday night, when the Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers meet at Moda Center in Portland.
The old discourse was pointless for no fewer than four reasons, the first being that Curry owns a 2-0 lead in NBA MVP awards, with one of them the only unanimous vote in league history. Two more reasons were that Curry owns a 5-0 lead in NBA Finals appearances and a 3-0 lead in championship rings. The fourth reason is that Curry’s Warriors routinely were superior to Lillard’s Trail Blazers, posting a 12-1 postseason record and a 20-8 regular-season record since Dame entered the league in 2012.
Appreciate them both. Enjoy them equally. But accomplishments matter, which is why Curry, drafted in 2009, three years ahead of Lillard, has a claim on being better.
The comparison can be revived because reason No. 4 no longer is valid. The Warriors and Blazers are comparable teams for the first time since 1994.
They are one game apart in the standings, and a Warriors victory would create a virtual tie but give them the season series. Each team is chasing second-tier playoff seeding in the Western Conference. And each has one All-Star, Curry for Golden State and Lillard for Portland.
For once, the Curry-Lillard discussion is on fairly even terms, with similar goals.
“We love those type of environments and the opportunity to go back and forth,” Curry said Tuesday. “We don’t guard each other that much, but we do, just knowing that if either one of our teams is going to win, we’ve got to play well.”
Neither of these teams would be a playoff factor without their guy. When Curry went down early last season, it killed Golden State’s playoff chances. A serious injury to Lillard would take the Blazers out of the high-stakes game.
Both are healthy, playing very well and have similar MVP credentials. Lillard is third among scoring leaders, averaging 29.6 points per game. Curry is fourth at 29.5. Curry is first in 3-pointers made, with 164, and Lillard is second with 135. Lillard is eighth in assists, Curry 17th. Lilliard is sixth in Player Efficiency, Curry ninth. Curry is shooting 93.8 percent from the line, Lillard 93.2. Curry is at 41.3 percent from deep, Lillard 38.0. Curry is first in 3-point attempts, 11.7 per game, Lillard second at 11.0
One would have to look pretty hard to find two players with such similar numbers and impact. They are not alike. But they are alike enough to have their teams where they are.
“The similarity lies in the fact that Steph and Damian are two of the greatest shooters the league has ever seen,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They both extend their range out to the logo. And that changes the way you have to guard us and the way that you have to guard Portland.”
When Lillard posted a video on Instagram of him firing from the logo, Curry commented with admiration, which led to a friendly exchange with each challenging the other to pull up from the logo early in the shot clock. It’s a game only they can play.
Curry’s deep shooting revolutionized the game at every level, regardless of gender. Lillard’s shooting has taken the same route. Neither blinks at taking the 35-footer because each has a history of making it, particularly in the clutch.
Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young, the latest deep-shooting specialist, owes a debt of gratitude to the two future Hall of Famers, as does anybody with a decent chance of dropping triples from beyond 30 feet.
Curry’s list of achievements is longer than that of Lillard. That’s unlikely to change. Nor will it matter Wednesday night, when the outcome of the game could stir renewed debate.
This time, for this season, it won’t feel so silly.