Lillard real judge for 2021 will be after All-Star Game

Playoff success will easily overshadow another All-Star Game snub
By Cliff Pfenning, Publisher
AP photo

Social media lit up around the Portland Trail Blazers Thursday when the NBA exposed its line-up for the upcoming All-Star Game ... and Damian Lillard was not a starter for the Western Conference.

Lillard, Dame to the league's fans, got stiffed. Turns out it was by the NBA's fans, who picked Lebron James, Steph Curry and Luka Doncic as the starting guard trio, even though players and the league's media picked Lillard for the third spot.

Dame got stiffed for that third spot.

But, really, who cares as the big prize is on the court after the All-Star Game, which is set to be played between the end of the pandemic-shortened regular season and the unshortened playoffs on March 7 in Atlanta.

Would have been nice, really nice, for Damian to get into an All-Star starting role for the first time in his nine-year career.

This season is his most deserving as he's averaging nearly 30 points, four rebounds and eight assists per game to lead the Blazers to fourth place in the West, regularly closing out games with the decisive shot. And those decisive shots have been highlight worthy night after night for viewers on ESPN and the web.

But, Doncic, in his third year with Dallad, is hot right now, and even a bit outspoken about his team's motivation to win as the Mavericks struggle to reach .500 and a spot in the playoffs.

That's the real judge of the season for Dame, and he is an All-Star for the sixth time, so at least the league respects him. His fellow players and those who cover the league voted him to a starting role, but fan votes carry more weight. As do the playoffs, and fan voting has nothing to do with those games.

Portland is lined up for a first-round battle against Phoenix currently, although that's entirely volatile with seventh place and a meeting with the Lakers only 1.5 games away with seven games left on the schedule. Four of those games are against current West playoff teams.

The Blazers play at Phoenix on Monday, then at the Lakers next Friday.

 

BLAZERS WIN SIXTH STRAIGHT

NEW ORLEANS - Damian Lillard showcased his clutch credentials with 43 points, including a go-ahead three-point play with 16.5 seconds left, to lift the Trail Blazers to their sixth consecutive victory, 126-124 over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night.

Lillard also added 16 assists – his third consecutive game of at least 30 points and 10 assists — for a team playing without backcourt mate CJ McCollum and center Jusuf Nurkic.

“Our guys fought hard, but we just could not contain him at all,” said Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy. “Stopping them is 90 percent stopping him.”

Lillard had 11 fourth-quarter points and was clutch in the final seven minutes. JJ Redick gave the Pelicans a 105-103 lead with 7:34 left, capping a 7-0 New Orleans run, but Lillard then came off the bench and immediately hit a 3-pointer as Portland regained the lead. Anfernee Simons added a 3-pointer on the next possession to make it 109-105.

The Pelicans retook the lead on a pair of 3-pointers by Lonzo Ball and Redick and led for the final time at 124-123 with 26.4 seconds left after Zion Williamson made two free throws. Williamson’s finished with 36 points.

But Lillard drove past Ball on the left side of the lane for the layup and drew contact to put Portland up 126-124.

“There were 26 seconds on the clock, and I knew that whether we scored or not, if we just got a quality shot and gave ourselves enough time, even if we fouled and they made both free throws, we still would have had a chance to tie and go into overtime,” Lillard said. “So, it was really no pressure on that possession.

“I just wanted to attack, make an aggressive move. I was able to get some space. I drew contact and I just focused on the finish.”

The Pelicans had a final chance, but Ball missed a 3-pointer and Brandon Ingram threw up an airball at the buzzer.

Lillard had 11 points in the third quarter as the Blazers outscored New Orleans 35-22 to take a 94-91 lead, with Gary Trent Jr. hitting a 3-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer.

Lillard hit three consecutive 3-pointers in a 1:44 span as part of his 15-point, first-quarter flurry, which keyed a 21-8 run and produced a 35-30 Portland lead. The Blazers led by as many as 11 in the first quarter, but the Pelicans, shooting 52 percent closed out the period with an 11-5 run.

Lillard played the entire first quarter, but when he sat for the first six minutes of the second, the Pelicans made a move, taking a 45-43 lead behind Williamson’s eight points on an array of power moves to the basket from the high post. New Orleans used a 28-9 run to take a 53-45 lead.

During one five-minute stretch, New Orleans made nine consecutive shots, including two 3-pointers by Ball and one each by Eric Bledsoe and Willy Hernangomez, to stretch its advantage to 64-49. Ball’s 16 first-half points on 4-of-5 shooting from long range helped the Pelicans to a 39-24 edge in the second quarter and gave the Pelicans a 69-59 halftime lead.

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