Damian Lil­lard, Port­land guard

The Denver Post - - SPORTS -

What’s up: Lil­lard is on a tear un­like any other guard in the NBA. He was named West­ern Con­fer­ence player of the week for games played March 13-19 while lead­ing the hard­charg­ing Trail Blaz­ers to a 3-0 record. He had 36 points in a vic­tory over San An­to­nio and a sea­son-high 49 points in a vic­tory at Mi­ami. The 6-foot-3 guard en­tered Satur­day’s home game against Min­nesota av­er­ag­ing 32 points and 4.9 as­sists in his pre­vi­ous 10 games, propelling Port­land to a 7-3 record.

Back­ground: De­spite play­ing some of their best bas­ket­ball of the sea­son, the Nuggets have been un­able to sep­a­rate them­selves from the Trail Blaz­ers in the race for the eighth and fi­nal play­off berth in the West­ern Con­fer­ence. That is in large part be­cause of the per­for­mance of Lil­lard, who for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive sea­son seems to have been fu­eled by an all-star snub. He has also been aided by the ad­di­tion of for­mer Nuggets cen­ter Jusuf Nur­kic, who has helped open the floor for Lil­lard and back­court mate C.J. McCol­lum. Lil­lard’s scor­ing and field-goal per­cent­age have taken big jumps since the trade that brought Nur­kic to Port­land in ex­change for Ma­son Plum­lee in the mid­dle of Fe­bru­ary.

Kosmider’s take: Lil­lard looks de­ter­mined to carry the Trail Blaz­ers to the play­offs, and the fifth-year guard from We­ber State could be the sin­gle big­gest threat to the Nuggets’ hopes of break­ing their four-year play­off drought. What’s been most im­pres­sive about Lil­lard is the way he has risen to the oc­ca­sion in the big­gest games. He hit nine 3-point­ers in the vic­tory over Mi­ami last week, al­most sin­gle-hand­edly car­ry­ing Port­land to a win in per­haps its tough­est road test re­main­ing. The Nuggets are set with a mon­ster clash in Port­land on Tues­day, and cor­ralling Lil­lard will be a top pri­or­ity for Den­ver.

Trail Blaz­ers star Damian Lil­lard, a prod­uct of Big Sky Con­fer­ence mem­ber We­ber State, is be­ing paid $24.3 mil­lion this sea­son. The As­so­ci­ated Press

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