Friday night's Lakers-Trail Blazers matchup was an emotional affair as the first Lakers game at Staples Center following the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. But, following a powerful Bryant tribute and a stirring speech from LeBron James, there was still basketball to be played.
Damian Lillard has been on a ridiculous tear over the last week and a half, and continued his earth-scorching ways on Friday, dropping 48 points, 10 assists, and nine rebounds to drive the Blazers to victory. The now-infamous "Dame Time" didn't come in the fourth, like we've become accustomed; rather, it came in the third, when Lillard hit six three-pointers and scored 23 of his 48 points to give the Blazers a cushion they'd never give up. The Lakers can thank the referees for that. Lillard was T'd up after complaining about the lack of foul calls he was receiving, and exploded soon after.
Lillard is in the middle of a career year, but the last five games have been downright ridiculous, even for him. It started with a 61-point performance against the Warriors, where he went 11-20 from deep. He followed that up with 47 points against Dallas and a 50-burger against the Pacers, shooting well over 50 percent from the field in both matchups. Then came his first career triple-double against the Rockets, with a statline of 36 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds, leading up to last night's equally-hot shooting night.
It seems hard to believe that Lillard can keep getting better and better, but here we are. Despite all the injuries the Blazers have faced, Lillard has stepped up his game accordingly. It hasn't necessarily translated to wins, because one man can only do so much, but Lillard has placed himself firmly in the second tier of MVP candidates as we near the All-Star break. He's averaging 29.4 points, 7.8 assists, and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 39 percent from three and 88 percent from the line. Much of his damage has been done as the only legitimate offensive threat for Portland while CJ McCollum struggled with an injury.
Dame is having nearly a perfect offensive season as a point guard. There aren't many players more fun to watch than Lillard when he gets cooking. It's too bad that many factors outside of his control have the Blazers currently out of the playoff picture, but there's always something fascinating about a singular player embracing the Herculean task of keeping his team afloat in a storm, refusing to crumble under the overwhelming force of better teams. That's been Lillard for much of his career, and this year is no different.