A showdown between Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic has become the NBA world’s dream.
With two dynamic players who lead their teams (and more often than not have ice in their veins) Sunday night was another impressive battle between the two talented guards.
And with both superstars with the ball in their hand in the final minute of Sunday’s contest that went down to the wire, what more could one ask for?
In the end, it was Lillard and the Blazers who came out on top after the Blazers point guard knocked down his signature step-back three, which put his team up 119-116 with 32.8 seconds remaining.
Doncic had a chance to tie the game with 5.0 second left. He had a wide-open look from three on the wing.
It rattled out.
After Portland came away with the 121-118 victory, Lillard sat down to talk to the Dallas media, Portland media, and national media over Zoom.
It was a record-setting Zoom as far as number of participants.
Yes, Lillard has captured the attention of many.
The Weber State alum has, in the past, talked about how winning MVP is important to him.
Outside of an NBA Championship, that's a logical next benchmark for the soon-to-be 6-time All-Star.
“I see myself at the top of the league,” Lillard said postgame. “I’m one of the best players in this league and I feel like I’m on that level and the way our team is playing, given our circumstances, make it even more obvious to me.”
In the win, Lillard finished with 34 points, 11 assists and three rebounds.
The Blazers improved to 16-10, which includes an 8-5 road record.
Keep in mind, Portland is doing this while CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Rodney Hood are all out.
On the other side, Doncic notched 44 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds.
But the Mavs fell to 13-15 overall and 6-8 at home.
With as many scorers as the Mavs have this season and Doncic playing like he’s a man on a mission, Portland knew Dallas would not go away quietly. And after a 10-0 run from Dallas late in the fourth, that was when the real showdown between Lillard and Doncic began.
But after Lillard hit the step-back from downtown, it was Carmelo Anthony’s veteran thinking that got them another bucket as he found Derrick Jones Jr. working the baseline.
Many were shocked that Doncic didn’t convert on his last three-point attempt, including Lillard and Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, but for Lillard’s teammates, they were able to enjoy the showdown between the two MVP candidates.
As the league continues to witness just how valuable Lillard is throughout the NBA, and even more so for his team, Simons explained exactly where he sees the most value in Lillard as a teammate.
“His leadership – everything he says holds a lot of weight for everybody on the team from top to bottom. We just trust in him and everything that he does.”
But it is the trust that Lillard has in his teammates that the five-time All-Star believes has helped shape the evolution of his game.
Especially with the Blazers enduring so many injuries once again this season.
Lillard credits his time in the league and his offseason workouts where he sees Gary Trent, Anfenree Simons, and Nassir Little putting in the time for being able to trust his teammates to create and knock down shots.
The Blazers team captain not only leads the way in a majority of statistical categories while being the leader on and off the court, but his leadership skills have also gone to new heights.
His faith in his teammates is a big reason why Portland’s riding a four-game winning streak at the moment.
“This year I feel like my approach hasn’t just been taken upon myself as much as it’s been about giving other guys the stage and showing that I have belief in them,” Lillard added.
That new wrinkle to his game should also help him in the MVP conversations.
Of course, there’s a lot that goes into the MVP voting, and as Robert Covington mentioned postgame, there’s always politics involved, but right now, Lillard is in the conversation and has guided the short-handed Blazers to a 16-10 record.
Now just think about a Blazers-Mavs, Lillard-Doncic playoff matchup.
The NBA would absolutely love to see that.