It’s no simple task to accurately rank this year’s Portland Trail Blazers‘ squad, and their performances over the last week exemplify this statement.
With games against Toronto, San Antonio and New Orleans on tap for Portland, it seemed feasible they’d be able to escape the week with at least two wins. San Antonio possessed (at the time) the best record in the West, so that game was essentially chalked up to an easy win for Greg Popovich’s savvy veterans.
However, that wasn’t exactly how it went down last Thursday night.
Going toe-to-toe with Spurs point guard Tony Parker, Damian Lillard was once again being baptized by fire in his rookie season, and like so many of his outings this year, Lillard impressed. You could even go so far as to say that the young Weber State product out played Parker allowing the Blazers to cruise past the Spurs by a final score of 98-90.
With a victory over Parker in his rear view, Lillard did something even more impressive against the Hornets Sunday night in hitting a game winning three pointer as time expired in the 4th. A first, and certainly not last, achievement for Lillard who continues to build on his Rookie of the Year resume.
And now to the week’s awards.
First Star: Damian Lillard (12/13: W vs. San Antonio)
As mentioned above, Damian Lillard excelled in his showdown with Spur point guard Tony Parker this past Thursday night.
The rookie logged 40 minutes of action and contributed to the win by pouring in 29 points, on 11-22 from the floor, 2-6 from beyond the arc while hitting all five of his free throw attempts. Lillard added 7 rebounds and 6 assists as Portland cruised by the Western Conference powerhouse, San Antonio Spurs.
Lillard’s maturation, and progression, through just 23 games this year, has been one of the season’s early story lines, and if he continues to have a big impact on this Blazer’s squad, there’s no doubt he’ll be awarded Rookie of the Year honors come next summer.
With so many past drafts leaving Portland fans scratching their head, it\’s been refreshing, and exciting, to see a draft pick find as much success as Damian Lillard has. It’s definitely a lot more comforting seeing those #0 jerseys around Portland than it was to try and deal with all those #52′s floating around in the past.
Second Star: LaMarcus Aldridge (12/10: W vs. Toronto)
When the Blazers returned home from their brutal 7 game road trip on December 8th, they showed the lingering effects in a home blowout loss to the lowly Sacramento Kings.
Returning to the court two days later to take on the Toronto Raptors, Portland found a renewed sense of self and laid the wood on the visiting team.
Despite setting a record for missed threes (0-20!), it was the play of LaMarcus Aldridge that powered them to victory.
Aldridge, playing 39 minutes, shot 11-19 from the floor and shot a perfect 8-8 from the charity stripe in a 30 point, 12 rebound, 2 steal and 2 block performance.
Seeing Portland’s All Star put up numbers that they’ve grown familiar with, was reassuring given the minor slump he’d been mired in for the few games before the contest against Toronto.
Third Star: JJ Hickson (12/16: W vs. New Orleans)
Despite Lillard’s last second heroics, it was the play of one of Portland’s big men that allowed the Blazers to keep the Hornets (Pelicans?) at bay last Sunday night.
JJ Hickson, a pleasant surprise on this year’s squad, recorded his 5th straight double double in the game, scoring 24 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. The forward, who played 31 minutes, shot 10-14 from the floor, 4-6 from the free throw line, while also adding 3 assists and one block.
Bringing Hickson back for the 2012-13 Blazers was one of Neil Olshey\’s crowning achievements this past summer, and Hickson is not letting anyone regret that decision. In 23 games, Hickson has recorded a double double in 13 of them; impressive numbers for a once promising forward who had been trending in the wrong direction before Portland gave him a second (or third) chance.
Dunk of the Week: Nicolas Batum and JJ Hickson vs. New Orleans.
Nic Batum and JJ Hickson hooked up to orchestrate a monster alley-oop dunk in Sunday’s contest against the Hornets. Enjoy.