Damian Lillard’s troubling observation on Portland’s season
On each side of Friday night’s Milwaukee Bucks-Portland Trail Blazers matchup featured an MVP-caliber talent.
Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 47 points, 12 rebounds and 18-for-21 shooting for the Bucks. Point guard Damian Lillard ended with 32 points, five assists and five 3-pointers for the Blazers.
In the end, Giannis and company would win, 127-109, to move to 31-17 on the season, while Damian and the dudes dropped to 29-19.
It’s been a good season thus far for Portland and its fans, as the Blazers are currently No. 6 in the Western Conference and just eight games out of the No. 1 seed.
Nonetheless, some questions still remain. After the loss, Lillard brought to light some concerns he and his team will be facing in the homestretch of the regular season.
Damian Lillard: "This is one of the best years since I've been here in terms of winning the games we're 'supposed' to win. But against the top teams, we haven't fared well."
— Sean Highkin (@highkin) April 3, 2021
Lillard’s hunch isn’t just a bad vibe: it’s a fact.
Against teams that were/are .500 or worse, the Blazers are 21-7 — a robust .750. Against teams that were/are .500 or better? After Friday’s defeat, the Blazers are 8-12 — a not-so-robust .400.
Where the Blazers have struggled the most, naturally, is against the Western Conference: a place they’re currently just 15-12. The wild, wild west is as competitive as it’s ever been, with nine teams at .500 or better with 26 games to go.
To be fair to the Blazers, elite guard C.J. McCollum played in just his 23rd game of the season on Friday after recently returning from injury, while point forward/center Jusuf Nurkic suited up for just his 16th game. Center Enes Kanter is the only Portland player to appear in all 48 games this season. Injuries have played their part.
Still, Lillard’s concerns are legitimate. If the Blazers want to make a deep, deep run in the playoffs, only the elite will await them.