5 Essential Contests For The Trail Blazers: 1 – Damien Lillard Should Play Like The MVP

The Trail Blazers are scheduled to open training camp on September 27 in Santa Barbara, Calif. In building up to camp, The Oregonian/OregonLive will take a look at five of the biggest stories a team must play to stand a chance at competition. During the 2022–23 NBA season, Chauncey finished second as the Billups coach.

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Portland Trail Blazers They will be coming off their worst season since 2005–06 when they open training camp.

The team went 21–61 (.256 win percentage) before starting a three-year climb towards a winning season, which came again during the 2008–09 season (54–28).

The Blazers finished 27-55 (.329) last season, but certainly don’t expect to take three years to push past the .500 this time around. In fact, they sincerely hope to do so this season, and for good reason. Injuries, major trades and general franchise dislocation contributed to last season’s disappointment. superstar guard Damien Lillard is healthy and GM Joe Cronin was able to add players to that coach’s roster Chauncey Billups Feels better fit his system, which notably includes, Jeremy Grant forward and guard Gary Peyton II.

The only reason the Blazers can finish above .500 is justified because Lillard says he is healthier than ever and ready to return to his previous All-Star form. He experienced the worst season of his career in 2021-22 while dealing with a core muscle injury that required mid-season surgery.

But can the Blazers possibly play their part in the title dispute? Odds say no, but stranger things have happened.

For example:

  • The Phoenix Suns were 26-39 in 2019-20 when the pandemic brought the season to a halt in March 2020. In the bubble in August 2020, the Suns won eight games in a row. He then added Chris Paul, went 51-21 in 2020-21 and went down to the NBA Finals, losing to the Milwaukee Bucks.
  • The Boston Celtics, who led 36-36 in 2019-20, started last season 25-25 before winning 26 of their final 32 games, then losing to the Golden State Warriors to reach the NBA Finals.

That said, the Blazers will need to do a lot to go right in order to survive in the Western Conference, which should be stacked with playoff-caliber teams. Here are the first of five essentials to be a contender for the Blazers:

1. Damien Lillard to return to MVP-candidate form: If Lillard doesn’t regain his mojo, the Blazers will have no chance of returning in the postseason, let alone struggle.

Here’s a brief rundown of what happens to the Blazers when Lillard plays poorly:

Damien Lillard

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damien Lillard receives some shots after practice in Tualatin on Monday, February 7, 2022. Lillard underwent abdominal surgery on January 13. Sean Meagher/The Oregonian

There was a moment last season when the Blazers’ fortunes began to turn. Lillard started the season with a poor shooting stretch which contributed to a 6-8 start. But on November 15, after a 1–3 trip, the Blazers returned to Portland and began a four-game winning streak with a win over Toronto. Lillard, who had already begun to trace his shooting stroke — he scored 29 of 62 field goals during the three-game stretch — 47.8% from the field (35 of 73), 44.4% from three-point range. (16 out of 36 ), while averaging 27.5 points per game over four winning nights. And just like that, the Blazers were 10-8 and seemed to have found their groove.

That assumption proved to be premature. In the next three games, Lillard went 16 out of 46 (34.7%), including 6 out of 23 (34%), as the Blazers lost to Sacramento, Golden State and Utah. But more important than the Blazers’ loss to the Warriors and Jazz was that Lillard scored only 27 points in those two games combined and appeared sluggish.

After the defeat in Utah, the Billups revealed that Lillard was injured. Long story short, Lillard missed the next five games, guard CJ McCallum suffered a collapsed lung, the Blazers went 2–11 in December and the season was pretty much toast as Portland kicked off the new year with a 13–22 record. start up.

Lillard underwent core muscle surgery in January and never saw the court again after the Blazers went into tank mode. McCollum, Norman Powell and Robert Covington were all traded.

Lillard would play just 29 games at an average of 24.0 points, his lowest scoring output since 2014–15. Lillard’s shooting percentage from the field (40.2%) and the three-point line (32.4%) was even more dangerous.

During the off-season, Lillard explained that the surgery has allowed him to become stronger, play pain-free, and function in his best physical shape in years.

For any of these things to happen, Lillard will have to return to the level of play he was in the running for NBA MVP in 2018 and early in the 2020-21 season before suffering an injury late in the season. That version of Lillard is able to literally win a game by himself, making life significantly easier for those around him.

Lillard kept the Blazers afloat in 2020-21 by averaging 28.8 points per game and shooting 45.1% from the field, including 39.1% from the three-point boundary, even though McCullum and Jusuf Narcic missed a combined 60 games. Furthermore, Lillard’s late game heroism put the Blazers in danger of winning any outing that was close to the stretch.

Lillard’s return to that level of play becomes even more imperative now that McCallum lives in New Orleans. Lillard and McCullum formed a backcourt pair capable of scoring 60 runs on any given night. Now, the Blazers will see Anferney Simmons, Josh Hart, and Peyton eating at the shooting guard for minutes.

Patton and Hart would undoubtedly be better defenders than McCallum, and Simmons has the talent to replicate McCallum’s scoring. But no one was called to hit the clutch shots McCullum hit during his 10 years at Portland.

Until further notice, Lillard is the only player on the roster with an extensive history of making big shots in the big games. Lillard will have to return or the Blazers won’t have the prayer to reach the playoffs, let alone fight.

next: Jusuf Narkik will have to live up to his $70 million contract.

— Aaron Fentress | afentress@oregonian.com | @AaronJFentres (Twitter), @AaronJFentres (Instagram), @AaronFentres (Facebook).

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