Through 19 games the Portland Trail Blazers are 11-8, following a thrilling 132-129 OT win over the NY Knicks on Friday night.
Normally that’s nothing to get too excited about, but in a year where there is no dominant Western Conference team only one loss separates the Blazers from the top spot. This chaos and parity in the conference might represent the Blazers and superstar Damian Lillard’s best chance to get back to a Western Conference Finals.
What Injury Does Damian Lillard Have?
The Blazers are ninth in aNET rating, 13th in aORTG and 11th in aDRTG. Lillard has missed seven games and will miss at least another week with a calf strain. But the team is competing and playing well without their All-NBA guard.
In the victory over New York, Jerami Grant dropped 44 points and Anfernee Simons added a robust 38 points. In Lillard’s absence other players are proving to be formidable forces with the rock in their hands, which will bode well when DAME D.O.L.L.A returns.
The Top 75 Anniversary Team selection has never played with so many guys able to defend and fill it up.
The Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard will be extremely cautious with the injury. He will take the necessary time needed to recover.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) November 20, 2022
For the first time in Lillard’s 11-year career in Portland the defense is flexible and aggressive at the point of attack. This has all happened without Gary Payton II, their best defender.
The chemistry has been excellent and that begins with Lillard, who in recent seasons has expressed displeasure and uncertainty about remaining in Portland.
“There’s something brewing. Something is brewing, and I don’t want to tell y’all what it is. We’re just going to let it keep brewing; we’re going to fermentate it,” said Justise Winslow this month. “We gonna let that thing — all the suds and the juices in the grapes — we gonna let it keep processing in the barrel.”
Apparently, Winslow thinks he’s a winemaker?
All jokes aside, the process of winemaking requires patience, planning, and an ability and willingness to roll up your sleeves and work. That’s what this Blazers team is doing and has been doing under the leadership of second year head coach Chauncey Billups.
Can Damian Lillard Lead Blazers To NBA Title?
Lillard led the Blazers to the Western Conference finals in 2019, where they were beat down by the Golden State Warriors, who were going for a three-peat. Since then, it’s become apparent to Lillard that the Blazers weren’t good enough to get over the hump and compete with the elite NBA teams.
Injuries and management and coaching changes seemed to give Lillard a new perspective.
Winning NBA championships is extremely difficult. Not only do you have to be really good, you need luck to break your way as well.
How Much Will Damian Lillard Make In Salary With Portland?
If Lillard left in free agency to attempt to win a title, there is no guarantee that would happen. Ask the superstars on the Clippers and Nets about it. Instead, he chose to remain in Portland, where by the end of the 2027 season he will have earned nearly $700 million in salary, and where he is the veteran superstar on a team with young, talented, and hungry players. Not to mention if the Blazers continue to play well, they could always make a trade if they think they have a shot at winning a title this year.
When Lillard and Payton II return to the lineup and Billups has a chance to tweak his lineups and see what combinations are best, we will have a more accurate read on what this Blazers team could be. For now, they are better than expected, and their superstar seems to be enjoying the process. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed.