Damian Lillard’s 50-point performance can’t save Blazers in increasingly familiar trend

Damian Lillard’s 50-point performance can’t save Blazers in increasingly familiar trend

Damian Lillard’s 50-point performance can’t save Blazers in increasingly familiar trend

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Portland Trail Blazers are skidding. They need an incredible performance from Damian Lillard just to compete. He gives them his best game of the season – and they always find a way to lose.

That’s what happened Thursday night in Portland. The Blazers, losing four in a row, needed Lillard to revive them against a powerful Cleveland Cavaliers opponent. He did exactly that: 50 points on 16-of-28 shooting to help the Blazers build a 14-point lead that was ultimately wasted. The Cavs rallied to win, 119-113. Portland’s losing streak is at five.

If any of this sounds familiar, well, it should. In March 2019, Lillard gave the Blazers 51 points, but Portland blew a second-half lead to give the Oklahoma City Thunder a 129-121 overtime win. Eight months later, he has 60 points for the Brooklyn Nets. His teammates couldn’t even match that, combining for 55 points on 21-of-64 shooting as the Nets left Portland with a surprise win.

Lillard is now the third player in the past five seasons to drop three games or more by 50 points, joining Bradley Beal and James Harden (who has four). Neither name should be particularly surprising. Beal is, in many ways, Lillard’s lookalike in the Eastern Conference: a high-scoring guard who chose to stay with an inferior team instead of pursuing a championship elsewhere. Harden was much more proactive. He changed teams twice during that time – and let’s just say the honeymoons didn’t last. Even now, in his third team in three seasons, rumors suggest he may want to return 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 at 19-22. They’ve lost nine of their last 11 games, and despite being stoned, Lillard has played in all of them. Their defense, even in its improved state, still only ranks 19th in the NBA. Their offense fell to 14th, making it the first time they’ve come out of Lillard’s top three in a healthy season since 2018. Lillard, who is scoring more than 27 points per game while roughly shooting his averages career, does everything in his power.

And yet his big games continue to be wasted for a team that seems less viable by the day. In a crowded Western Conference, even a single loss can have dramatic consequences on the standings. Things won’t get any easier from here for the Blazers, who will host a back-to-back series with the Mavericks this weekend before facing the Nuggets, 76ers and Lakers. A bad stretch could drop the Blazers to 13th in the conference.

Lillard clarified his position. He’s not going anywhere. But if this season continues to spiral, the Blazers are going to have to rethink how they build around him, because watching an icon like Lillard continue to lose his best games won’t hold up forever.

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