Lillard leads Portland on its latest late-season surge
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Damian Lillard says the Portland Trail Blazers reach out to him before he reaches team milestones, just to give him a heads up.
The only problem? Lillard doesn’t read his emails.
Lillard joked about it after his latest achievement: He surpassed Clifford Robinson on the Blazers’ all-time scoring list, moving into fourth, in Portland’s victory over the Knicks on Tuesday. Lillard, in his sixth NBA season, has 10,433 points.
“The team, I think they send me emails when something’s coming up, but I never check my email,” he said. “I never know unless I happen to see it on Twitter or until after I do it and somebody mentions it.”
Robinson was sure to get Lillard’s attention, sending his sentiments over Twitter.
“Congrats @Dame_Lillard! Trust, I know what it takes to put yourself in that position. Keep putting that work in young fella!” Robinson tweeted.
Lillard has certainly been putting in the work over the Blazers’ current winning streak, which has stretched to a season-best eight games. Portland hasn’t won as many consecutive games since 2014 when the team won nine.
The streak has pushed Portland into third place in the Western Conference, a half-game up on New Orleans in a cluster of teams scrambling for playoff position.
Over the course of the streak, which started when the Blazers beat Golden State 123-117 in Portland just before the All-Star break, Lillard has averaged 33.1 points per game.
Lillard had 44 points in that first game against the Warriors, who return to the Moda Center on Friday for a rematch.
“We’ve been on a good run, just playing good basketball on both ends of the floor. Our team has been on a streak, we’ve been really connected,” Lillard said. “It was even before the Golden State game when we got back from that trip and we lost one in Detroit. We had a good stretch and then we lost at home to Utah but then right after that we knocked off Golden State and picked it up.”
Lillard had 37 points in the 111-87 victory Tuesday over the Knicks, including eight 3-pointers.
At that game, and at a few more recently at the Moda Center, fans have taken to chanting “MVP!” when Lillard gets to the free-throw line.
Although Houston’s James Harden is clearly the front-runner for the award, New York coach Jeff Hornacek said Lillard is making a case for himself.
“The guy is playing fantastic. He might be one of those guys you’ve got to start talking about that MVP, too, with the way he’s playing,” Hornacek said.
Lillard has been averaging 26.8 points, 6.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game this season. He made the All-Star team for the third time, scoring 21 points in the annual showcase.
The Lillard-led late-season surge has become something of a trademark for the Blazers. In 2015-16, Portland was 27-27 at the All-Star break but finished the regular season 44-38 and in fifth place in the West. They got past the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the Warriors in the conference semifinals.
Last season, Portland lost three straight games to go into the break at 23-33. Shortly thereafter, an overtime loss at Detroit put the Blazers 11 games under .500.
But the Blazers went 13-3 in March, best in the NBA. Lillard was named the conference’s Player of the Month, averaging 29.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists. Portland made the playoffs for the fourth straight season, but fell in the opening round to the Warriors.
After the Warriors on Friday, the Blazers have 16 games left in this season.
Lillard, known for pointing at his wrist and signaling “Lillard Time” when he hits tough shots late in games, said he feels he’s playing the best stretch of his career. And it’s coming at a good time for the Blazers.
“Damian Lillard is special,” Portland head coach Terry Stotts said. “If it’s not obvious, I’ll say it.”
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