Saturday, February 4, 2017

J-Speaks: Trail Blazers' Lead Guard Joins Exclusive Club

When the NBA All-Star reserves were announced on the night of Jan. 26 during TNT’s “NBA Tip-Off,” presented by Autotrader, Portland Trail Blazers’ guard Damian Lillard, who is eighth in the NBA in scoring at 25.9 per game did not make it. A major reason for the snub is the Trail Blazers are 22-29 and are one game out of the No. 8 and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Despite being snubbed to play in the NBA unofficial mid-season classic on Sunday, Feb. 19 from New Orleans, LA on TNT, Lillard joined a very exclusive club in the team’s 22nd victory of the year on Tuesday night.

With 27 points on 10 for 18 shooting to go along with four assists in the Trail Blazers 115-98 win versus the Charlotte Hornets (23-27), the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year became just the 10th player in NBA history to score 8,000-plus points and dish out 2,000-plus assists in their first five NBA seasons.

Lillard, who scored 20 points or more in each of his 10 career games against the Hornets joined Cleveland Cavaliers forward and four-time MVP LeBron James; Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Larry Bird, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, Dave Bing and Oscar Robertson and former NBA head coach with the Sacramento Kings and former NBA on TNT sideline analyst Reggie Theus.

To put the company that Lillard joined into perspective, seven of the players on this list are in the Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA, with one to be when his playing career is over in James. Five of these great ones have won multiple NBA championships and James and Lillard are the latest to join this club. The only other player to achieve this mark was Jordan.

If that is not enough, Lillard in the early stages of the game versus the Hornets, who lost their third straight on Tuesday night connected on a three-point field goal for the 30th straight game, the longest current streak in the NBA and the longest of his career so far. Second to him was the Hornets lead guard Kemba Walker, who led the Hornets in defeat with 22 points was named an All-Star reserve for the Eastern Conference, his first All-Star selection in his career.

To understand the ascension of the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft out of Weber State, Comcast Sports Net Northwest sideline reporter for the Trail Blazers Brooke Olzendam gave a report in the first quarter, which was courtesy of Gatorade talking about how after the team’s 113-111 loss to the defending Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors (43-7) on Sunday night that starting center Mason Plumlee stopped by Lillard’s locker after the game and they had a conversation that lasted for a few moments.

Oldzendam said the topic of that discussion was about how Lillard being the team’s best player and that it is the entire team’s responsibility to find different ways to help him get going, especially early on in games scoring wise.

“Conversations are always good. The more of those, the better,” Plumlee said to Olzendam, who mentioned that during the broadcast.

Trail Blazers color analyst Lamar Hurd, a former Oregon State point guard and former college basketball analyst for the Pac-12 Network and ESPN said on the Tuesday night broadcast that Lillard reaching this milestone is the result of a player who came into the NBA ready, thanks in a large part that he stayed in college for all four years and perfecting his craft. He came in mature and ready to take the reigns as the lead guard and face of the Portland Trail Blazers, which he has done right from the jump.

“You see guys get time often, but who’s read to do something with that time. He [meaning Lillard] was ready,” Hurd said on Tuesday.

“It speaks to how he takes care of himself also of the court. In the off-season. Being prepared. Working on his game. Working on the weaknesses.”

Besides bringing his game to another level, Lillard has become the team’s leader and he has stated that the Trail Blazers have reached a point where how the rest of this season goes it is on himself and his teammates, especially at the defense end, where they improved to 10-4 when keeping the opposition under the century mark.

“We’ve gotten to the point where, our coaches, they’ve spent a lot of time at the practice facility, watching film and giving us different things we need to for and preparing us. At this point of the season, as players, it’s our turn to take over,” Lillard said after the game. “We’ve got to make the changes within us, within our group and on the court, and we’ve got to go take what we want for ourselves the rest of the season.”

Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 8/30/17 article “UPDATE: Blazers Hurd Lamar Hurd as New Color Commentator; 1/31/17 10 p.m. contest between the Charlotte Hornets versus the Portland Trail Blazers on Comcast SportsNet Northwest with Kevin Calabro, Lamar Hurd and Brooke Olzendam;;;; and 

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