Damian Lillard’s 50-point performance cannot save the Blazers in an increasingly familiar trend

Damian Lillard’s 50-point performance cannot save the Blazers in an increasingly familiar trend

Damian Lillard’s 50-point performance cannot save the Blazers in an increasingly familiar trend

Stop me if you’ve heard it before: The Portland Trail Blazers are sliding. They need an amazing performance from Damian Lillard to be able to compete. He gives them his best game of the season and they still find ways to lose.

That’s what happened Thursday night in Portland. The Blazers, losing after four games in a row, needed Lillard to bring them back to life against a strong opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s what he did: 50 points on 16-of-28 shooting to help the Blazers build a 14-point lead that ultimately went to waste. The Cavs rallied to win, 119-113. Portland’s losing streak is up to five.

If this all sounds familiar, well, it should. In March 2019, Lillard gave the Blazers 51 points, but Portland lost the lead in the second half to give the Oklahoma City Thunder a 129–121 overtime victory. Eight months later, he suspended 60 points from the Brooklyn Nets. His teammates couldn’t even match it, scoring 55 points on 21-of-64 shooting as the Nets left Portland with a surprise victory.

Lillard is now the third player in the last five seasons to lose three or more 50-point games, joining Bradley Beal and James Harden (who has four). Neither name should be particularly surprising. Beal is in many ways the Lillard doppelgänger of the Eastern Conference: a high-scoring shooter who chose to stay on an inferior team rather than challenge for a championship elsewhere. Harden was much more proactive. He changed teams twice during that period – and let’s just say the honeymoon didn’t last long. Even now, on his third team in three seasons, rumors suggest might want to go back to Houston.

If those are Lillard’s only options, he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. Thursday’s loss dropped the Blazers to 11th in the Western Conference with a 19-22 record. They have lost nine of their last 11 games and although Lillard is down he has played in all of them. Their defense, even in improved condition, still ranks only 19th in the NBA. Their offensive dropped to 14th, meaning they dropped out of the top three for the first time since 2018 in Lillard’s healthy season. his power.

And yet his big games continue to go awry for a team that looks less vital by the day. In the crowded Western Conference, even a single defeat can have drastic consequences. From here on out, things won’t get any easier for the Blazers, who will host a series this weekend with the Mavericks before taking on the Nuggets, 76ers and Lakers. A bad episode could push the Blazers down to 13th in the conference.

Lilard made his position clear. He’s not going anywhere. But if this season goes on, the Blazers will have to rethink how they build around it, because watching an icon like Lillard continue to lose his best games will not remain sustainable forever.

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