Damian Lillard, Portland guard
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