It was a bright day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. This is the opening line of George Orwell’s novel 1984 and it lets you know right away that something big is going on. In the NBA we don’t even need to get to April to be able to see that the clocks are going haywire. But we’re dealing with a very distinct kind of time here. One that is malleable to an individual’s desire and subject to his will. Fourth quarters all around the league are pointing to one thing. In case you hadn’t noticed, IT’S DAME TIME!!!
It feels like ever since he entered the league, there’s been a ton of talk about whether Damian Lillard is overrated or underrated. He’s even contributed to this debate himself, becoming a vocal critic of the lack of respect that he feels he receives, while publicly talking about being snubbed by All-Star voters and even other players.
But the Blazers are currently third in the Western Conference, undefeated since the All-Star Break, on a 10-game winning streak and they’ve just beaten last year’s champs to boot. So forget about whether he’s an All-Star or not, Damian Lillard has just entered the MVP discussion!
Since dropping 50 points on Sacramento, Dame has been on an incredible tear. His points tallies since that game read: 50, 39, 44, 24, 40, 26, 35, 20, 39, 37, 28, 32. Included in this run is a stretch of 10 games where he’s averaged 35.4 points, the highest average over a 10-game span from any Trailblazer in franchise history.
But the thing that has impressed me watching Portland games is not just his incredible shooting range and his ability to score, but his management of games, the timing of when he takes over and his ability to facilitate for teammates as well as find his own shots when it really matters.
Over the second half of games, Lillard is scoring a league-best 17.8 points per game and shooting an impressive 46.8 percent from beyond the three point line on almost 5 attempts. Over that same period, and illustrative of Lillard’s nature as a franchise player and teammate, it’s C.J. McCollum who is actually leading the league in fourth quarter scoring, with 9 points compared to Dame’s 8.6.
Furthermore, Portland’s win streak is undermining many of the dismissive talking points surrounding the team’s roster. It’s been suggested for some time now that the Trailblazers can’t consistently win with a backcourt so skewed towards offence as Lillard and McCollum appear to be, and yet they’re doing just that.
But much like Dame personally feeling like he doesn’t get the respect he deserves, so too does this whole team. Some will point to the fact that this same squad surged at the end of the 16/17 season, and that they’ve seen this before. But it’s the comparatively poor start to 17/18 that is starting to look like the aberration, rather than the stretches of good play. The Blazers have actually posted the second-best defensive rating since the All-Star break, something that’s largely been achieved by committee.
Shabazz Napier, Al-Farouq Aminu, Evan Turner, Ed Davis and Zach Collins have all played crucial roles in different games throughout this run, but most importantly the improved play of Jusuf Nurkic has also helped the Blazers become one of the hottest teams in the league.
But like I mentioned earlier, this is a similar narrative to last season. It was after initially acquiring Nurkic from Denver last year that Portland went on a run that had NBA fans talking. The ending to that story however, was not what the team wanted. And this has become the overarching narrative for Portland. Much like with Lillard – understated expectations.
But something seems different this time around. Yep, this feels like Dame Time. And, to bring this back to pop culture time metaphors… Lillard’s clutch play, his limitless shooting range and his killer instinct have the potential to drive this whole franchise past 55 miles per hour and to provide an opportunity to rewrite their story.
I guess that makes Zaza Biff?!
Featured photo by Craig Mitchelldyer / USAToday