Let’s take a little time to reflect.
Trail Blazers fans have been treated to absolute greatness while witnessing Damian Lillard’s current tear over the last couple of weeks.
Lillard has been putting a MVP-like numbers with ease and with no inclination of slowing down anytime soon.
The back-to-back winner of the Western Conference Player of the Week knew his team would begin to turn things around, because to put it simply -- they have been able to stick together.
“I think things are just coming back in our favor,” Lillard said after Monday’s practice. “We had a lot of reasons and a lot of things come up that could’ve caused us to go our separate ways, put our heads down and pretty much fold, and we haven’t. And, I think still showing up to work, staying together, still having a good time in that process, is just coming back to us now.”
Portland is riding a four-game winning streak in which Lillard has averaging 48.8 points, 10.2 assists and 7.2 during that span.
It’s not just his scoring that has been impressive, which is crazy to think about.
Lillard is averaging a double-double despite team’s putting even more emphasis on blitzing him. Teams are even throwing two defenders at him right as he crosses half court -- Blazers fans aren’t the only ones who know about the magic of Logo Lillard and his insanely deep threes.
It’s apparent that despite having so much defensive attention put on him, Lillard has been able to find his teammates with such ease recently.
But just because he makes it look effortless at times, don’t be fooled by that.
It’s not easy at all. I think it’s just accepting it, and being aggressive against it. I think usually when you see two people come at you, or a team defending you aggressively, you’re kind of like on your heels and you’re trying to find a way out… When it’s coming at me, I start attacking. I put pressure on it to where they’ve got to actually stop me. If I see that I can get around one guy, I’m going to attack them and make the rest of the defense have to react and it’s going to expose who the open man is. Then it makes it easier to make that play, or get the ball out and sometimes I might be able to turn the corner and get around ‘em, and the other guys might be hugging somebody and I might be able to get to the rim, so I’ve just been trying to be as aggressive as they are with the ball trying to stop me. -- Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts has been reiterating this very thing: Lillard’s passes have been a big part of Portland’s success.
“I’ve said this multiple times, his passes when they give him more attention -- he’s been making good passes, and the guys have been taking advantage of it and making good reads after he passes it,” Stotts said.
Over his eight year career, Lillard has proved time and time again that he can carry his team into the playoffs. His mentality of never back down while always believing that his team has a chance in a game or has a chance to make the playoffs, has shined bright throughout the years.
Lillard has also said in the past he wants to go down as the best Trail Blazer in franchise history.
This current stretch he is on not only is helping him get closer to achieve that daunting feat, but at the moment, it’s truly showing that great players are never satisfied with their game.
Lillard explained Monday that he has grown as a player even from last year to this year.
“I have felt this locked in and I just think I’m better player than I was the last time that I was maybe this sharp, but it’s part of growth and the process, and how your career unfolds, I guess,” Lillard said.
Greatness is unfolding right now.
And for the Trail Blazers team captain, he believes his growth as a player has been in big part to how he approaches his life away from the court.
I’ve been here mentally before and as far as preparation, I probably stepped that stuff up another level, because I’ve learned, I got another year under my belt. Mentors and people just kind of throwing things out there to me that I could use to improve. And, I just think I’ve come back this year a better player. So, it looks different when it’s happening this time. – Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard
Taking his mind off basketball and spending more time with his family is what Lillard has pointed to as a key to his recent play.
Lillard discussed how he has been able to create a true on and off court balance this season.
“Obviously, this is a game that we love to play, but it’s a game, and there was a day before we played in this league, and there’s going to come a day where we don’t play in this league again. And, our family is always gonna be there,” Lillard said.
Lillard continued, “When you come back to basketball, you’re able to function better and do things with a clearer mind and you just feel better about it.”
Coach Stotts used the phrase, ‘good control’ when discussing how Lillard has been able to elevate his play to a status that not only has Rip City chanting MVP, but CJ McCollum dancing to those Lillard MVP chants.
“He’s always been a confident player, but he looks like he has not only confidence, but a good control of what’s going on, on the court. And, he’s in a shooting groove, which kind of opens up things for not only him, but for other people,” Stotts said.
Those other teammates, who have benefited most from Lillard’s passing include: Hassan Whiteside, Trevor Ariza, and Nassir Little
Hello, lob city vs. the Jazz!
In true Lillard fashion, he gave credit to his teammates after Monday’s practice, giving props to the young guys improving, like Caleb Swanigan, Gary Trent Jr., Anfernee Simons, and Little.
“I think Trevor, and Biggie, and GT stepping up, Ant, Nas -- all those guys are improving in the middle of the season, learning on the job and I think all of those things, just coming together and we just hitting our stride, playing much better basketball,” Lillard said.
Coach Stotts couldn’t agree more with his point guard.
“Obviously bringing Trevor in, Trevor has been part of this run as well, and Gary Trent’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s shooting the ball well. Caleb in his spot minutes has brought a lot of energy… I think… Nassir has come in, made some shots and given us good energy. Last game he got a couple of lob-dunks. I think they’ve kind of picked their spots to play well, and they mesh well with whatever starters are out there,” Stotts said.
Whether it’s a lob, a kick out to the three-point line, an attack the rim and then dish down low to a teammate, or any other type of pass Lillard can muster up, he’s been able to get the job done even with teams’ blitzing him.
So, what’s next?
Will teams throw three guys at him?
They might have to.
One thing doesn’t seem to be in question anymore: Lillard has turned a corner on being able to turn the corner and find the open man.
And, his teammates are delivering.
That, my friends, is something that was not happening against the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2018 playoffs.
That has been some serious growth from Lillard.