Heading in to the All-Star break—and the unofficial halfway point of the year0151the Portland Trail Blazers found themselves trending in the wrong direction. They had lost three straight games, were witnessing their record continue to fall below .500 and had seemingly lost some of the mojo that had them in the improbable hunt for the playoffs.
With trips to Miami and New Orleans to close out a six-game road trip, Portland was looking to salvage some sort of momentum. Against the defending champs, however, that momentum gain seemed unlikely; the more feasible win could come against New Orleans.
The game against Miami was much closer than expected, as Portland established itself early and held a lead for most of the game. With LeBron James displaying, arguably, the best five to six-game stretch in NBA history, Portland’s lead was erased and the reigning MVP proved, once again, he’s the best basketball player on the planet as Miami downed Portland 117-104.
LeBron James’ incredible performance aside, Portland’s lack of defense and bench help (just 12 points) doomed the Blazers over the course of four quarters.
The following night’s game against the Pelicans (or Hornets, I guess) was a blowout for 48 minutes, with Portland losing by 36 points (99-63). Exhaustion could be an excuse, as they had played in Miami the night before, but no team, even with Portland’s roster, should get beaten by 36 points; let alone against a team who notched just its 19th win of the year through 53 games!
Admittedly, this week was one of the toughest in the Rick’s Picks history when I was searching for notable performances. As you’ll see, the weekend’s All-Star festivities play a bit of a role this week.
Now, on the awards.
First Star: Damian Lillard (2/12: L @ Miami)
The only game that provided any semblance of star power was Portland’s matchup with Miami, and Portland’s new point guard was up to his old tricks, scoring at will.
Damian Lillard, in 39 minutes, put up 33 points on 10-of-18 from the floor, including 3-of-8 from long range, and 10-of-11 from the free throw line. He also added three assists and one rebound. While the rebounding and assist totals were strangely low for Damian, the 33 points was just four points shy of his career high.
The Weber State product was hot all night long, and just couldn’t miss. If not for the torrid streak LeBron James was in at the time, Portland might’ve been able to ride its rookie point guard to a victory, snapping its losing streak.
However, that was not the case, and Lillard’s performance goes by the wayside as Portland couldn’t put together a solid second half.
Second Star: LaMarcus Aldridge (2/12: L @ Miami)
Portland’s lone All-Star, LaMarcus Aldridge, was the second half of the scoring power, along with Lillard, against Miami last week.
In 37 minutes of action, Aldridge recorded 29 points on 13-of-20 from the floor and a perfect 3-of-3 from the charity stripe. He also added five rebounds and one assist. Again, you’d like to see the rebounding and assist totals a little higher than they were, but when both teams shoot over 50 percent, those numbers tend to be a little smaller.
Still, the production out of Aldridge gave Portland a fighting chance well in to the second half. This kind of offensive showing is what Portland fans have grown to love out of the forward, and he continues to prove he is the cornerstone of this basketball team.
Third Star: Damian Lillard (All-Star Weekend)
This week I got a little creative with the Third Star designation and will be awarding it to Lillard for his performance at All-Star weekend in Houston.
Lillard played in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge last Friday and displayed his talents on the national stage. The point guard logged 27 minutes in the game, and had 18 points on 7-of-17 shooting. He shot 2-of-10 from beyond the arc and 2-of-2 from the free throw line while adding five assists, three rebounds and two steals. Stuffing the stat sheet is Lillard’s specialty and Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge was no different.
During the next night’s festivities, Lillard participated in the Skills Challenge against the likes of Tony Parker, Jrue Holiday, Jeremy Lin, Brandon Knight and Jeff Teague.
Unphased by the star power competing against him, Lillard, in the finals against Jrue Holiday, notched a 29.8-second run to win this years Skills Challenge.
Dunk of the Week: Terrence Ross (2013 Dunk Contest)
This week’s Dunk of the Week isn’t from a member of the Blazers, but rather a product of the city of Portland. Here is Terrence Ross‘ highlights from his win at the All-Star Weekend’s Dunk Contest. Enjoy.