Blazers Beat: Lillard continues to ramp up his game for Portland
What's ahead: After a Tuesday, Feb. 16, game at Oklahoma City, the Blazers play at New Orleans, 6 p.m. Wednesday, and then return home for Washington, 7 p.m. Saturday. Then, it's back on the road for three tough games — Phoenix (Feb. 22), Denver (Feb. 23) and Los Angeles Lakers (Feb. 26).
What's behind: The Blazers had won six of seven games, including four in a row, entering the Feb. 16 OKC game.
The Magic, outside of post Nikola Vucevic, didn't have much to challenge the Blazers, but they played hard. Damian Lillard scored 36 points in the 106-97 win Feb. 9.
The Blazers rallied to beat the NBA Eastern Conference's best team, Philadelphia, for the second time, 118-114 Feb. 11. Carmelo Anthony and Lillard hit late free throws, and Robert Covington stole an inbounds pass to help seal the win.
Portland destroyed Cleveland; it wasn't as close as the 129-110 score Feb. 12.
And, what a game Feb. 14 at Dallas. Luka Doncic had 44 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, but Lillard scored 34 with 11 assists and hit the tiebreaking, stepback 3-pointer late in the game in the 121-118 win. Doncic missed a wide-open 3-pointer that would have tied it.
MVP candidate?: One has to believe that Lillard will be in the MVP discussion, especially if the Blazers continue to win. He continues to improve, welcoming contributions from teammates, working hard defensively, making more plays, finishing better at the basket, consistently making shots from deep range and seemingly just raising his game and competitiveness. (He's helping Blazers surge even without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic).
He was averaging 29.0 points, 7.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds entering Tuesday, but one can't quantify what he means to the Blazers, attitude-wise. It's off the charts.
The Trail Blazers passed on a pretty telling post-game quote, via Twitter, after the win at Dallas.
"I see myself as the top of the league, I'm one of the best players in the league," Lillard said. "The way our team is playing given our circumstances makes it even more obvious to me."
— Jason Vondersmith
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