Once again, James Harden of the Houston Rockets is leading the league in scoring. Once a threshold so nearly impossible for everyone else, his 35.6 points per game total is entirely normal for him, and even though he has a 5.6 points per game lead over the wildly different yet equally exceptional Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks in second place, it is not a lead that will be overcome. Harden will once again win the scoring title this season, his third consecutive such achievement.
Third place in that category, though, is gaining fast. Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers is averaging 29.8 points per game this season, four whole points more than last year on only one extra shot per game, and 2.8 points per game better than his previous best career total of 27.0 set back in 2016/17. And over the course of the last month, he has been almost without peer.
In 15 games in the month of January, Lillard averaged 34.1 points per game, doing so on a .655% true shooting percentage. And in his team’s only game of February so far, he recorded 51 more points on only 29 shots in 36 minutes, alongside 12 assists. Over the course of his last six games, Lillard has two performances in the forties, two in the fifties and a 61-point outing that has resulted in an average of 48.8 points per game in that span. And he has been blisteringly efficient from the field in doing so.
Lillard has done so by being an unconscionably good shooter from outside. He is more than just an outside shooter, of course, yet he has hit 49 three-pointers across those six games on only 86 attempts, shooting considerably greater than 50% from the field even with a degree of difficulty that is through the roof. And Lillard is not just spotting up off of the draw of others – he is the draw, the one who is at the head of literally everything that his team are trying to do offensively right now.
Incredibly short-handed all season long in the frontcourt and not getting consistent bench contributions from anywhere, the Trail Blazers have been relying upon their backcourt pairing of Lillard and C.J. McCollum to carry the team offensively, Lillard especially. Prior to this scoring explosion, Lillard was already playing well, averaging 29.2 points per game in the season’s first month and on course to set career highs in every offensive basic counting statistic. Yet he has blown that out of the water with his recent play, and it is not a coincidence that this surge, combined with the timely edition of Trevor Ariza via trade from the Sacramento Kings, has seen the once-floundering Blazers win five of their last six games and stay in the playoff race in the Western Conference.
From the betting point of view, more important than what Lillard is doing is how he is doing it. Lillard picked up the nickname “Logo” last year due to vitally important clutch shots he hit from nearer the halfway line than the three-point one, yet to say he has subsequently embraced it would be an understatement. Lillard now is regularly shooting from this area, and he is hitting them at a startling rate. Giving up shots from this area are normally big wins for the defence, but Lillard has gotten so good at them that he has to be game-planned for out there. And to draw significant defensive attention while forty feet from the room opens up everything for everybody else in a big way.
It is not a coincidence that Lillard had posted these big scoring numbers on good defences. The Utah Jazz (tenth in the league in defensive rating), the Los Angeles Lakers (fifth), the Houston Rockets (fifteenth) and the Indiana Pacers (eighth) have been the opponents in the last four games, all wins for the Blazers, and all coming against quality opposition with good-to-very-good defensive units. That is because no defensive unit can take Lillard away from what he wants to do.
If he wants to shoot from forty feet away, you kind of have to let him, get a hand up in the face if you can and hope he misses it. But he isn’t missing them. While this hot streak will cool off at some point from the sizzling highs of this past fortnight, Lillard has broken out at scorer even as he approaches the second half of his career, and no matter whom the Blazers are playing in their upcoming fixtures, we should always look for Lillard to exceed his own personal money line.
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