I really, really can't figure out what to think of the Portland Trail Blazers and their second year point guard Damian Lillard. Even after their loss in Sacramento tonight, the Blazers are still 26-9, crushing the expectations for the team which had them at best challenging for a playoff spot in the West.
My general feeling is that Portland can't possibly continue to perform at the level at which they've opened the season, and indeed they are 4-5 in their last nine games, after starting the season 22-4. And they could easily be 3-6 in those games as that stretch includes a overtime win over the Clippers.
It also includes a couple of close losses, which were unheard of for the Blazers until recently, but as I've always said, those games are essentially coin tosses, and the law of averages is catching up with them some in losses to Miami and Philadelphia in the past couple of weeks.
But then I look at what Lillard did tonight and I wonder if the Blazers are truly to be feared because Lillard is really just that special of a player.
The Blazers trailed the Kings tonight by 12 points with 72 seconds left. Game over, right? I mean, has any team ever made up a 12 point deficit in a minute and twelve seconds? I doubt it.
With 16 seconds remaining, after a 14-4 run, it was a two point game, and Lillard had scored all 14 points. That's 14 points in less than a minute folks. It's not TMac with 13 points in 33 seconds, but then again, I'm cheating Lillard a bit by not starting the clock with his first make. If you do that, it was 14 points in 49 seconds, which is positively McGrady-esque. He made three three pointers, was fouled shooting a fourth three making all three free throws, and had a layup tossed in there for good measure. In all, it was 14 points on five possessions in less than a minute, all from a second year point guard out of Weber State. Here's the crazy thing -- Sacramento only had one empty trip in that stretch (though they did split a pair of free throws twice). They gave up a 14-4 run in less than a minute without committing a turnover.
Lillard finally missed a pair of threes in the final 10 seconds separated by two missed free throws from Derrick Williams or Portland would have actually completed this comeback. All they needed was 20 points in 65 seconds from Lillard -- is that too much too ask?
So have the Blazers been riding a wave of hot shooting and lucky breaks to an unsustainably hot start? Are they destined to fade into the second tier in the West where everyone suspected they'd be entering the season? Or do they have two legitimate superstars in Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge who are at or near the same level as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin?
I still can't tell.