Thursday, March 23 2023

Damian Lillard, Blazers hungry for 4th straight win, clash with Nuggets

Damian Lillard isn’t breaking back in slowly after going 9 1/2 months between regular-season games.

Lillard has scored 41 points in each of the past two games, and he’ll look to help the Portland Trail Blazers open the season with their fourth consecutive win when they host the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.

Lillard was limited to 29 games last season due to an abdominal injury but didn’t need long to rediscover his six-time All-Star form.

He made five 3-pointers in the first 41-point outing when the Trail Blazers posted a stunning 113-111 overtime win over the visiting Phoenix Suns on Friday. Two days later, he knocked down six 3-pointers while again scoring 41 in a 106-104 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Just three games into the season, Lillard is averaging 34 points while displaying that “Dame Time” is still ticking.

“Obviously, Dame is back and he’s pretty much putting the league on notice,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said after Sunday’s win.

Despite Lillard’s long-time star status, some observers were wondering if his production was about to decline.

After all, the face of the franchise is now 32 years old and in his 11th NBA season. Plus, he averaged over 35 minutes in every season of his career.

Lillard heard some of the chatter but quickly dismissed it.

“I knew better than anybody I was hurt,” Lillard said. “My body was messed up. My abdominal injury, and I had other things that were nagging me. …

“Recharging myself physically and mentally, I knew I had a plan set up that once the season did come around, it would be just a matter of time before I found my stride.”

Jerami Grant was Portland’s second-leading scorer against the Lakers with 16 points. Grant also scored the winning basket with three seconds left.

The Nuggets have won back-to-back games after losing their season opener.

Two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had 19 points, 16 rebounds and 13 assists in Friday’s 122-117 home victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was his 78th career triple-double, tying him for sixth all-time with the legendary Wilt Chamberlain.

Jamal Murray scored 16 points against the Thunder as he continues his comeback from tearing the left ACL in his knee in April 2021. He missed all of last season.

The contest was Murray’s second of the season and Denver coach Michael Malone said it was an improvement from his season debut.

“Once he found his rhythm, we started seeing flashes of old Jamal,” Malone said. “The fadeaways, the step-backs, creating separation and tough shots, the two-man game between he and Nikola. And that is so much fun to watch.”

Michael Porter Jr. is healthy after last season’s back issues limited him to nine games. He scored 22 points against the Thunder and is averaging 18 per game.

Porter has made five 3-pointers in each of the last two contests.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made six 3-pointers and scored 21 points against the Thunder. He is a new starter for Denver after being acquired from Washington as part of the deal that sent Monte Morris and Will Barton to the Wizards.

Blending in Caldwell-Pope and reinserting Murray and Porter has Malone looking at the bigger picture.

“This is definitely a work in progress, and it’s gonna require patience on everybody’s part,” Malone said. “I know full well that we will continue to improve as the season goes along — 82 games is a really long season, and we just have to stay the course.”

Denver went 3-1 against Portland last season and has won 14 of the past 18 meetings.

–Field Level Media

Source: Yahoo Sports


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