Last week, LaMarcus Aldridge returned to the NBA.com “Race To The MVP” rankings, showing up at No. 8, after a prolonged hiatus due to injury. Portland winning four-straight and clinching a playoff spot immediately following Aldridge’s return from a lower back contusion was all the proof needed to show that the three-time All-Star power forward is indeed a most valuable player to the Trail Blazers.
And this week, Aldridge continues to climb up the MVP rankings. While it’s all but a two-man race between Kevin Durant and LeBron James for the NBA’s most prestigious individual award, it’s still good to see Aldridge bump up three spots to No. 5 in this week’s rankings …
Aldridge is the definition of an MVP with what he’s meant to the Trail Blazers this season. They were a totally different team without him in the lineup last month while he dealt with a sore back. Their 3-4 record during his absence last month put them in danger of falling out of the West’s ultra-competitive playoff chase. They are 6-1 since he returned (Aldridge is averaging 22 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 2.1 apg and 1.1 bpg in that span) and clinched their playoff spot during his comeback. As good as Damian Lillard is and has been this season, the Blazers will go only as far as Aldridge leads them in the playoffs. This is his team.
And it has been for some time now. The Trail Blazers would struggle mightily if Lillard, who made the MVP rankings back when the Trail Blazers were running roughshod over teams earlier in the season, missed time due to injury as Aldridge has this season, but Aldridge is still the linchpin to Portland’s success. That much was evident when the Trail Blazers lost three consecutive games, including a double-digit loss to the Orlando Magic, immediately preceding Aldridge’s return.
Aldridge is ranked behind Joakim Noah at No. 4 and ahead of James Harden at No. 6.
Though he’s provided fans with some of the most spectacular moments in franchise history, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard swears he’s never heard chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” at the Moda Center, or at least, not “M-V-P!” chants that were directed at him.
But that changed late in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s 112-104 victory versus the Brooklyn Nets. As Lillard stepped up to the free throw line with just over 25 seconds to play and the Trail Blazers leading 108-104, the sellout crowd of 19,393 fans at the Moda Center made their appreciation well known, breaking into a loud and extended “M-V-P!” chant as the 6-3 point guard in his fourth season out of Weber State made both freebies to ice the game.
“It meant a lot,” said Lillard, who finished with 34 points, four assists, three steals and two rebounds in 37 minutes. “When I got up to the free throw line I heard it was growing a little bit, then I made the first one and it got loud. I could see all the fans like standing up and stuff, so that let me know that they really meant that chant. It was a great feeling and I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing.”
While Lillard’s effort Tuesday night, particularly in the fourth quarter, was instrumental in lifting the Trail Blazers to their sixth consecutive victory, the first real “MVP!” chants seemed like an appreciation of his cumulative performance since returning from the All-Star break. He’s averaging 40.5 points on 57 percent shooting, 6.0 assists and 3.0 steals in the three games since the break, a run that included a 51-point performance in a win versus the league-leading Warriors and a 30-point night in Sunday’s win versus the Jazz, a team right next to Portland in the Western Conference standings.
“He’s playing at an elite level right now,” said CJ McCollum, who also put up 34 points in Tuesday win, “and we need him to sustain that up until the rest of the season, up until April and May.”
If Lillard can continue to performance at his current level into April, the Trail Blazers will have an exponentially better chance of extending their season into May. And if that is the case, fans at the Moda Center won’t be the only people thinking MVP with they see Lillard, though such honors are not of his concern.
“I said it a month and a half ago: my focus is to pour myself into the team,” said Lillard. “The reason why they were chanting that is because I poured myself into the team and we’ve gotten better and we’re winning games and I’m playing well through that. I’ll just continue to do what I do and I’ll let everyone else make (MVP voting) decisions like they have been and they always will.”
Now that the stretch run of the NBA season is officially here, it seemed like a good idea to check in on where the Trail Blazers stand in terms of the weekly power rankings. It’s been well over a month since the last time we surveyed the media’s opinion regarding where the Trail Blazers stack up among their 29 contemporaries, so now seemed like as good of a time as any revisit the rankings, especially with Portland riding the wave of a five-game winning streak.
So without any further ado, here’s your latest Power Rankings roundup, which might be the new high water mark for the Trail Blazers this season after starting the year at the bottom of just about every list.
• Marc Stein of ESPN.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 9 this week, which is four spots better than last week and 19 spots better than their ranking at the start of the season…
Hell hath no fury like a Dame scorned (by Western Conference coaches). So much for that 2-9 career record for All-Star snub Damian Lillard against Steph Curry that we were talking about last week. The conversation now has to be about how the Lillard-led Blazers just became the first of five teams to beat the mighty Warriors this season and follow that up with a win in their next game.
While I’m not going to entirely discredit the notion that Lillard is playing with an extra edge after missing the All-Star Game — after all, he DID put up his career high in the first game after the break — Portland had been trending up even before Dame’s snub.
Stein has the Trail Blazers behind the Pacers at No. 8 and ahead of the Jazz at No. 10.
• John Schuhmann of NBA.com has Portland at No. 10 this week, two spots better than last week and 15 spots better than their initial ranking…
Pace: 97.6 (18) OffRtg: 105.0 (7) DefRtg: 104.3 (18) NetRtg: +0.7 (13)
Damian Lillard dropped 51 on the champs on Friday, Lillard and C.J. McCollom each went for 30-plus in Sunday’s huge win over the Jazz, and the Blazers have averaged 120 points over their last four games. But they also have the league’s third best defense over the last month, and only two of the 11 games in that stretch were against bottom-10 offenses. They play three this week, but also have another big game against the Rockets.
Portland went 9-5 in January, but many of those wins came at home against sub-.500 teams, prompting some to question whether the Trail Blazers’ success was due to improved play or had just hit an easy stretch of the schedule. But having won five-straight, all against teams with at least .500 records, has rightly quieted that skepticism.
Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Pacers at No. 9 and ahead of the Grizzlies at No. 11.
• Jeremy Woo of SI.com has Portland at No. 11 this week, five spots better than last week and 17 spots better than their preseason ranking…
League Pass brethren, please, please go back and watch Damian Lillard decimate the Warriors. Even better: The entire team is clicking, they’ve become a chore to defend, and after falling nine games under .500, the Blazers are 14–3 since Jan. 10.
March will provide ample challenge for the Trail Blazers and their playoff aspirations, but the way they’ve played in during the last month and a half has put them in a position to be optimistic of their chances of making their third-straight postseason.
Woo has the Blazers behind the Grizzlies at No. 10 and ahead of the Hawks at No. 12.
• Matt Moore of CBS Sports has Portland at No. 8 this week, two spots better than last week and 22 spots better than the dead last ranking Moore bestowed upon the Trail Blazers to start the season…
Great reminder this week: Never, ever, ever make Damian Lillard mad. His 51-performance vs. the Warriors was the stuff that people talked about for days afterward.
This seems like a great opportunity to thank all of you for checking out our content on this here blog and on TrailBlazers.com over the last week. Strong support from you, our loyal fans.
Moore has the Trail Blazers behind the Raptors at No. 7 and ahead of the Pacers at No. 9.
• Kurt Helin of NBC Sports’ ProBasketballTalk blog has Portland at No. 10 this week, six spots better than last week…
Winners of five in a row, the Blazers have the best net differential of any team in the NBA over the last 10 games (numbers aided by a 32-point spanking of the Warriors). They are getting it done on both ends. Neil Olshey used the Blazers’ cap space brilliantly at the deadline to acquire picks.
Helin has the Trail Blazers ahead of the Grizzlies at No. 9 and behind the Pacers at No. 11.
• Fox Sports, in rankings posted prior to Portland defeating Golden State and Utah this weekend, has Portland at No. 16 this week, which is one spot better than last week and 12 spots better than their initial ranking…
Ceiling: A whole series against familiar face LaMarcus Aldridge — If Portland can keep pace as the No. 7 seed in the West, they’ll match up with the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. San Antonio emerges victorious in that hypothetical series, of course; the bigger question is whether Damian Lillard will outshine Aldridge, his former teammate who’s been far from his old self with the Spurs.
There are few things I would be less interested in than a “LaMarcus vs. The Trail Blazers” playoff narrative, but I suppose it would be better than missing the postseason all together.
Fox Sports has Portland behind Dallas at No. 15 and ahead of Detroit at No. 17.
• The panel of voters at USA Today has Portland at No. 15 this week, one spot better than last week and 10 better than their initial ranking…
Between his rap song and career-high 51 points vs. the Warriors, safe to say Damian Lillard wasn’t pleased with his All-Star snub.
A lot of people weren’t please with Lillard’s omission, but they all didn’t go out and do something at their job that no one had done before. I guess that’s the difference between professional athletes and the rest of us.
The folks at USA Today have the Blazers behind the Bulls at No. 14 and ahead of the Jazz at No. 16.
• Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report, in rankings post on Feb. 19, has the Trail Blazers at No. 10 this week, two spots better than last week…
The Blazers put their cap space to good use, getting stretch-provision candidate Anderson Varejao and a top-10-protected first-rounder from the Cavaliers in the Frye trade. The move illustrated the benefits of cap room that often go unmentioned: Instead of signing free agents, you can also take on unwanted salary and demand picks for the trouble.
If there’s a criticism to be made here, it’s that the Blazers didn’t do anything to weaken themselves in the short term. Making the playoffs means losing their own first-rounder to the Nuggets.
Still, that’s only a valid complaint if you believe a lottery pick is worth more than the experience a young roster would gain in the postseason—which is a debatable position to take.
Hughes has the Trail Blazers behind the Hawks at No. 9 and ahead of the Mavericks at No. 11.
The Trail Blazers schedule to start 2016 has been lovely, with the team playing 16 of their 22 games since the start of the new year at the Moda Center. That home-heavy stretch has been part of Portland’s recent success, with the Trail Blazers winning 11 of their last 12 and six-straight going into Thursday night’s nationally televised game versus the Rockets at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on TNT and 620 AM).
But the schedule turns cruel starting this weekend, with the Trail Blazers embarking of a six-game road trip that kicks off a stretch in which they play 12 of 15 games on the road, and against some of the best teams in the NBA. So before we saddle up for a travel-heavy month, Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com and I, Casey Holdahl of this blog you’re currently reading and TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio to record the 60th edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this the diamond anniversary edition, Freeman and I discuss Portland’s winning streak, which included a surprising victory versus the Golden State Warriors, the next-level play of Damian Lillard, the defensive improvements in 2016 and whether they can continue to defend at that level, the upcoming trip and the challenges it provides and answer your Twitter-submitted questions regarding where Lillard and CJ McCollum rank among NBA backcourts, dealing with flying and bed bugs while traveling and give a few Oscar picks. It’s a nice way to say goodbye for the next month.
No one who saw Stephen Curry score an NBA-record 17 points overtime of Golden State’s 132-125 victory over the Trail Blazers in Game Four of the Western Conference semifinals Monday night would be surprised to here he was announced as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for the second-consecutive season Tuesday morning. What’s more, Curry garnered all 131 first-place votes, making him the first unanimous MVP in the history of the award. There’s a strong case to be made that the series between the Warriors, a team that set the NBA record for wins in a season this year with 73, and Trail Blazers would be tied at 2-2 were it not for Curry’s return from an right MCL sprain, which is just another small piece of evidence as to Curry’s status as truly the league’s most valuable player.
While Curry had MVP locked up well before the All-Star break, the rest of the ballot was far more unpredictable, with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard edging out Cleveland’s LeBron James for second. The Oklahoma City duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant finished fourth and fifth, respectively, with Clippers point guard Chris Paul coming in sixth and Curry’s teammate Draymond Green taking seventh.
Then there’s Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, who received one third-place vote, four fourth-place votes and nine fifth-place votes to finish eighth in the final MVP tally. What’s perhaps most impressive about Lillard’s eighth-place finish is that he did so despite only getting two fifth-place votes from the Portland media. Lillard, the lone returning starter from the 2014-15 team, averaged 25.1 points, 6.8 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 35.7 minutes per game this season while leading the Trail Blazers to their third-consecutive postseason appearance and just their second playoff series victory in the last 16 years.
Lillard finished ahead of Houston’s James Harden and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry to round out the top 10 vote-getters. Coincidentally enough, Lillard is the only player to finish in the top 10 in MVP voting who did not make the 2016 All-Star Game. Try to get that right next time, eh fans and NBA head coaches?
While Lillard fell well short of winning MVP, he still has a strong chance of being named to one of the three All-NBA teams, which are typically announced in late-May.
Last week, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard jumped into the NBA’s weekly “Race to the MVP” rankings for the first time during the 2015-16 season by virtue of leading the Trail Blazers to win in 11 of their past 13 games while scoring at least 30 points in five straight games. The 6-3 guard debuted at No. 6 in the rankings, which also happened to be Portland’s place in the Western Conference standings with just over a month of games left to be played in the regular season.
This week, Lillard once again finds himself at No. 6 in updated MVP rankings after helping the Trail Blazers ensure at least a .500 record on their current six-game road trip, which continues tonight in Toronto against the white-hot Raptors, with wins versus the Bulls, Pacers and Knicks…
Lillard had his hands full in Boston Wednesday night with a group of the best defensive guards on any team in the league in Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and All-Star Isaiah Thomas. He finished with a team-high 20 points but had just four rebounds two assists and two steals. And he’ll have his hands full again tonight at the Air Canada Centre against Toronto Raptors All-Star Kyle Lowry (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass). Yet Lillard always seems to rise to the occasion when another elite point guard is lined up across from him. Lillard will have to continue to work his magic with C.J. McCollum if the Trail Blazers are going to get through th. current road trip intact and maintain the momentum they’ve built up recently.
While Lillard and the Trail Blazers can return home with their heads held high regardless of the result in tonight’s contest and the trip finale Sunday night in Detroit versus the Pistons, getting at least one more win would turn what has already been a good trip into a great one while improving Lillard’s chances of moving into the Top 5 of MVP rankings next week.
Lillard is ranked by San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard at No. 5 and ahead of Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook at No. 7. Lillard’s matchup in tonight’s game, Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry, is ranked No. 8.
Near the end of Tuesday night’s victory versus the Nets, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard was treated for the first time to chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P” by fans at the Moda Center. While Lillard’s stat line of 34 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field, six assists, five rebounds and a steals was worthy of praise on its own, the “M-V-P!” calls on this night seemed to be more of an appreciation of an impressive series of performances that saw the 6-3 guard out of Weber State score at least 30 points in five consecutive games, all Trail Blazers’ victories.
“It felt like a ‘You’re Ours’ type of chant,’’ Lillard said after Wednesday’s practice. “It wasn’t even like a ‘You’re going to win MVP’ … It was more like, ‘If nobody else appreciates you, we appreciate you’ type of thing.”
But lately, that appreciation has not been unique to Trail Blazers fans. Now that the Trail Blazers are still in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, people outside of Rip City are starting to come around on Lillard’s MVP credentials. That includes NBA.com’s Sekou Smith, who puts Lillard at No. 6 in this week’s “Race To The MVP” rankings…
Lillard fueled the Trail Blazers’ six-game win streak that ended Thursday night against Houston and James Harden by scoring 30 or more points in five straight games, including that 51-point masterpiece in the upset win over the Golden State Warriors. He’s on a 10-game roll that has seen him average 28.4 points, 7.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals. He might have missed out on being selected for the Western Conference All-Star team, but Lillard’s revenge could be leading an underrated and overlooked Trail Blazers team to a playoff berth. They are in the hunt thanks to the leadership and play of the last man standing after the franchise’s summer overhaul.
This is the first time this season that Lillard has made the Top 10 in MVP rankings. He’s behind Clippers point guard Chris Paul at No. 5 and ahead of Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard at No. 7.