Damian Lillard

Trail Blazers Shut Down Damian Lillard For Rest Of Season

March 28: Lillard will be shut down for the rest of the season, sources tell Chris Haynes of TNT and Bleacher Report (Twitter link). In an article for the Athletic, Charania expects “serious conversations” between Lillard and the Blazers about what’s next for the two sides.

March 25: All-Star guard Damian Lillard may be shut down for the rest of the regular season, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. Sources tell Charania that the Trail Blazers are leaning toward ending the season for Lillard, who missed Friday night’s game with tightness in his right calf.

Portland has been in the midst of a tight Western Conference playoff race for most of the season, but a recent downturn has dropped the team into 13th place. The Blazers have lost seven of their last 10 games — including a 28-point defeat against the Bulls Friday night with Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, Jerami Grant and Anfernee Simons all sidelined — to fall to 32-41, three-and-a-half games out of the 10th spot.

Lillard is having one of his best seasons at age 32, averaging a career-high 32.2 points per night in 58 games, along with 7.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds. He bounced back from core surgery that limited him to 29 games last season and earned his seventh career All-Star appearance.

Although Portland is sliding out of the postseason battle, the team is moving up in the race for a high lottery selection. The Blazers currently own the league’s sixth-worst record and are just a game-and-a-half away from Orlando for the fifth-best lottery odds.

A decision to shut down Lillard, and possibly hold out some of the other rotation members, could have a significant impact on the Western Conference playoff picture. Portland will host the Thunder and Pelicans Sunday and Monday and then has two home games with the Kings to wind up the month. The Blazers will also face the Timberwolves, Grizzlies and Clippers before the season ends.

Northwest Notes: Blazers, Joe, Ingles, McDaniels

As Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report (subscription required) writes, the Trail Blazers looked ready on Friday to pull the plug on the 2022/23 season.

Having slipped out of the play-in race during a recent six-game losing streak, Portland ruled out Damian Lillard (right calf tightness) and Jusuf Nurkic (right knee soreness) for Friday’s game vs. Chicago and ran out a starting lineup made up of Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaedon Sharpe, Matisse Thybulle, Trendon Watford, and Drew Eubanks. The outcome was predictable, with the Blazers losing to the Bulls by 28 points.

With the Trail Blazers now sitting at 32-41, three-and-a-half games back of the No. 10 seed in the West with nine games to go, there’s little reason to believe the team will resume its push for a play-in spot down the stretch — and it’s possible we won’t see a whole lot more of banged-up vets like Lillard and Nurkic this season. That would be good news for playoff hopefuls like the Thunder and Pelicans, who will visit Portland on Sunday and Monday, respectively.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Given the team’s lack of impact moves on the free agent market since relocating to Oklahoma City, Isaiah Joe may be the most important free agent addition in Thunder history, declares Zach Lowe of ESPN (Insider link). While Joe won’t become a star and may never even be a starter in OKC, he has enjoyed a breakout season and looks like a potential rotation player for years to come, Lowe writes. Joe has knocked down 42.0% of his three-point attempts this season and the Thunder have a plus-6.6 net rating when he’s on the court, easily the best mark by any player who has spent the entire year with the club.
  • Bucks forward Joe Ingles admits that he took it hard when he was traded by the Jazz at the 2022 trade deadline, but he has since comes to terms with it and now appreciates the fact that he got to spend eight years with the franchise, writes Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. The roster overhaul that the Jazz have undergone since Ingles’ departure made it easier for him to move on. “We had a hell of a run; at some point, they always come to an end,” he said. “Ours did — not by the players’ choice, but that’s how it works.”
  • In an interview with Shams Charania of Stadium (Twitter video link), Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels says he thinks he’s the best defender in the NBA.

Northwest Notes: Clarkson, Sexton, Lillard, J. Williams, More

Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson, who has missed the team’s last four games due to a finger injury, was a partial participant in Thursday’s practice and participated fully in Friday’s practice (Twitter links via Eric Walden and Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune). It remains to be seen whether or not Clarkson will be active when Utah hosts the Celtics on Saturday, but it appears he’s nearing a return.

The news isn’t as promising for Collin Sexton, who hasn’t played since February 15 due to a left hamstring strain. According to Walden, Sexton is progressing, but won’t be reevaluated until next week, so he’ll miss at least a few more games.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Chris Haynes said in the latest episode of the #thisleague UNCUT podcast that he believes the Trail Blazers may shut down Damian Lillard for the rest of the season if they don’t make up ground in the standings over the next five or six games (hat tip to RealGM). While that sounds like speculation, Haynes is pretty plugged-in on Lillard-related matters.
  • Thunder wing Jalen Williams has climbed to second place in The Athetic’s rookie rankings and is showing legitimate star potential, according to Sam Vecenie. Williams has helped keep Oklahoma City in the playoff race by averaging 19.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.4 APG, and 2.2 SPG on .563/.467/.873 shooting in his last 15 contests (33.5 MPG).
  • A spokesperson for Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore told Josh Kosman of The New York Post this week that the duo is prepared to buy another 20% of the Timberwolves. “The money is in the bank and ready to be funded today,” the spokesperson said. There were reportedly some concerns in 2022 about A-Rod’s liquidity and some speculation that the plan for Rodriguez and Lore to assume majority control of the Wolves could be in trouble, but it remains on track. When they officially make this month’s payment, Rodriguez and Lore will control 40% of the Wolves — the plan is for them to exercise their option to increase their stake in the franchise to 80% by the end of 2023.
  • Nuggets rookie Christian Braun saw his minutes reduced during a stretch of games in late February and early March, but has been back in the rotation this week. Head coach Michael Malone said it’s been hard to keep Braun off the floor, since he has a knack for making “winning play after winning play,” writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. “He’s playing with confidence,” Malone said. “He’s running the floor, rebounding, making the most of his opportunity, not getting frustrated when he’s out of the game. We need him to continue to do that and be ready for the playoffs.”

Northwest Notes: Braun, Murray, Lillard, Towns

Christian Braun‘s playing time has diminished since the Nuggets signed veteran point guard Reggie Jackson. Braun may warrant a return to the second unit, considering his performance on Sunday against Brooklyn, Harrison Wind of TheDnvr.com writes. Braun had seven points, three rebounds and an assist in 12 minutes. Braun is also one of the team’s better defenders, Wind adds, and got an endorsement from the team’s franchise player.

“He was good. I actually told him, not just his energy, he actually played really good,” Nuggets center Nikola Jokic said of the first-round pick out of Kansas. “He had good minutes. He was talking on the floor. He was running correct. Energy, you need to have energy when you play, especially him.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Jamal Murray departed the Nuggets’ loss to the Nets in the third quarter on Sunday due to left knee soreness. However, a source told the Denver Post’s Mike Singer (Twitter link) that Murray was “fine.”
  • Damian Lillard missed Sunday’s game with calf tightness but coach Chauncey Billups was still stunned by how poorly the Trail Blazers played in a loss to New Orleans, Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian writes. Portland trailed by as much as 39 points to the Pelicans. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either, knowing how pivotal this game is,” he said. “That team was very short-handed. That team was playing on the back-to-back. That team was very desperate.”
  • A good sign for the Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns was spotted in a practice uniform putting up shots at the end of the team’s shootaround in Atlanta on Monday, Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune tweets. A calf strain has kept the star big man on the shelf since November 28.

Blazers Notes: Lillard, Offseason, Thybulle, Front Office

At 31-35, the Trail Blazers currently hold the 13th seed in the Western Conference, but star guard Damian Lillard remains bullish about the team’s chances of securing a playoff or play-in berth. Speaking to Chris Mannix of SI.com, Lillard pointed out that nine Western teams – including eight ahead of Portland the standings – have between 33 and 35 losses.

“So it looks like, ‘Oh, you know, trying to get a play-in spot,'” Lillard said. “But everybody’s playing each other and everybody’s in the same thing. We could end up fifth. In a perfect world, it’s possible. Right now, we just have to keep fighting and try to be one of those teams that comes out on the other side.”

While Lillard hasn’t given up hope on making some noise this spring, he recognizes that the coming offseason will be an important one for a Portland club that badly wants to take another step toward legitimate title contention.

If they miss the playoffs and the Knicks make it, the Blazers will control two first-round picks, including one in the lottery. Based on his comments to Mannix, it sounds like Lillard would like the front office to explore dangling those draft assets in a package for an impact player.

“That means we go into the offseason and we don’t come out the way we have in the past,” Lillard said of what he’d like to see this summer. “Where it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re going to try to do something,’ and then we watch other people capitalize on things that are out there, and we pass, pass, pass, pass and can’t get anything done and then it’s done. It’s like, ‘All right, well this is what we got going into the season with.’ And I think as far as execution, that means we go out there, we be aggressive and we try to actually get something done. Stepping out there and giving ourselves a chance to be one of those teams in the end.”

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • While Matisse Thybulle remains fond of Philadelphia, he admitted ahead of his return on Friday that he fell victim to some “more fear-based play” when he was a member of the Sixers and has felt rejuvenated since joining the Trail Blazers a month ago. “It’s been such a warm, welcoming reception from top to bottom, front office to coaching staff to players, a genuine one at that,” Thybulle said, per Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer (subscription required). “Like they are really happy to have me; teammates are excited to have my skill set on the floor with them. Coaches are excited to coach me. It’s been really nice to feel wanted in that capacity.”
  • In a separate story for The Inquirer, Pompey says that the Trail Blazers are considered likely to re-sign Thybulle when he becomes eligible for free agency this summer. “That’s the thought behind it,” Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups said of trading for Thybulle at February’s deadline. “He’s the type of guy that we like, that’s going to compete on the defensive end and is going to play a selfless game on the offensive end. And he’s just a winning spirit.”
  • Kevin Pelton of ESPN takes a look at the current and former WNBA stars who have roles in the Trail Blazers’ front office, including Tina Thompson, Asjha Jones, Sheri Sam, and Evina Westbrook. As Pelton writes, general manager Joe Cronin liked the idea of hiring WNBA players because many of them have diverse résumés as players, including time spent in overseas leagues during the WNBA offseasons.

Northwest Notes: Lillard, Conley, Gilgeous-Alexander

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard became the second player to reach the 70-point mark this season, torching the Rockets for 71 points on Sunday, writes Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. Playing for the first time since the All-Star break, Lillard made 13 three-pointers on the night, one short of the NBA record, and reached 41 points by halftime.

“I think any hooper enjoys those moments when you’re hot, you’re in attack mode, you’re feeling good,” Lillard said. “But it’s the stuff afterward that I struggle with, like when I walked off the court, was I supposed to be overly excited, or what?”

Lillard set a career high for scoring and broke the single-game franchise record of 61 points, which he had reached twice. Speaking to reporters after the game, including Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian, coach Chauncey Billups marveled at the performance by Lillard, who is in the midst of the highest-scoring season of his career at age 32.

“He just wasn’t forcing at all,” Billups said. “He understood what they were going to come out and do. And that takes some incredible discipline to know, all right, I’m not gonna force it. I’m just gonna fall back. And that was just so impressive to me.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Lillard hasn’t wavered in his commitment to the Trail Blazers, but the opportunity to compete for a title remains very important to him, according to Baxter Holmes of ESPN. Lillard points to Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee and Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas as examples of players who were able to get a ring after critics said they needed to move on to another team. “We devalue people’s body of work if you don’t win a championship,” Lillard said. “I’ve shown up for 11 straight years. Just think about how much time that is. When you really think about 11 straight years and I’ve given them something to cheer for. We’ve won a lot of games. I’ve given them great performances. I don’t give excuses. I give them my all.”
  • Timberwolves guard Mike Conley sees a lot that the team needs to correct before it can make a playoff run, per Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Minnesota let a lead slip away Sunday night while losing to the shorthanded Warriors. “We can talk about the last two minutes, but there’s a lot of things that go on … that set us up for those positions,” Conley said. “Youth will do that. You get guys worried about missing a shot and they turned it over and might be thinking about that particular play too long. Then they miss an assignment on the defensive end. It’s all little things that can be fixed.”
  • The Thunder are optimistic that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander won’t be sidelined much longer, states Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. The star guard missed his second straight game on Sunday with an abdominal strain and right ankle soreness, but there’s hope that he might return Tuesday.

Injury Updates: Raptors, Bucks, Blazers, Nuggets

OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr. and Thaddeus Young were all full practice participants on Tuesday evening and head coach Nick Nurse said they looked “good, healthy and ready to go,” on Thursday against New Orleans, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. All three players will indeed play tonight, Lewenberg confirmed on Thursday (via Twitter).

Barring Otto Porter, who is out for the season after foot surgery, the rest of Toronto’s injury report was clean until Fred VanVleet was downgraded to out shortly before tip-off due to personal reasons, per Blake Murphy of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link).

Of the group who are set to return, Anunoby had missed the most time — he’s been out the past nine games with a wrist injury he suffered nearly a month ago.

Here are more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • Jae Crowder is set to make his season debut for the Bucks on Friday against Miami, writes Eric Nehm of The Athletic. Crowder, who sat out the entire ’22/23 season while awaiting a trade from Phoenix, was working out with Bobby Portis and Joe Ingles in Miami during the All-Star break, per Nehm. Portis has been out for a month with a sprained knee, but he was able to practice before the break and will return to action on Friday. According to Nehm, head coach Mike Budenholzer was optimistic about Khris Middleton returning Friday as well. The three-time All-Star has been dealing with right knee soreness lately, missing the final game before the break. All three players are list as available on the latest injury report, Nehm tweets.
  • However, things aren’t so positive for Giannis Antetokounmpo (wrist sprain) and Pat Connaughton (left calf soreness), who are both doubtful for Friday’s game, Nehm adds. Giannis is day-to-day, while Connaughton was only a partial practice participant Thursday for the Bucks.
  • Damian Lillard and Jerami Grant are both out for Thursday’s matchup in Sacramento due to rest, the Trail Blazers announced (via Twitter). As Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report explains (via Twitter), the Blazers’ flight out of Portland was delayed for several hours on Wednesday due to a snow storm and finally departed late Thursday afternoon.
  • Nuggets guard Jamal Murray returned to action on Thursday in Cleveland after dealing with knee soreness leading into the break, tweets Chris Dempsey of Altitude Sports Radio. Murray had missed the previous six games. Unfortunately, Aaron Gordon remains sidelined with a rib injury, per Mike Singer of The Denver Post (Twitter link). Head coach Michael Malone said Gordon’s rib issue is “not where I would wish it would be,” according to Singer, who hears from a source (via Twitter) that the rib isn’t fractured, but it’s still limiting Gordon’s effectiveness.

Doncic, Irving To Start For Team LeBron

Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving are not only Mavericks teammates, they’re also starting together for Team LeBron at the All-Star Game Sunday in Salt Lake City.

LeBron James selected his former Cleveland teammate Irving and Doncic, the league’s leading scorer, during the first captain’s draft conducted on the same night as the All-Star Game. Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid will start up front for Team LeBron. The reserves for LeBron’s team include Anthony Edwards, Jaylen Brown, Paul George, Tyrese Haliburton, Julius Randle, De’Aaron Fox and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Donovan Mitchell and one of the players he was traded for, Lauri Markkanen, will start for Team Giannis. Ja Morant and Jayson Tatum round out the starting lineup. Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, DeMar DeRozan, Pascal Siakam, Bam Adebayo and Domantas Sabonis will be the reserves for Team Giannis.

Jayson Tatum, Damian Lillard Headline 3-Point Contest Field

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen, and Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton will participate in this weekend’s 3-point contest in addition to the All-Star Game, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

The eight-man field will be filled out by four non-All-Stars, according to Charania: Lillard’s Blazers teammate Anfernee Simons, Haliburton’s Pacers teammate Buddy Hield, Heat guard Tyler Herro, and Kings wing Kevin Huerter.

Some of those names had been previously reported, but Charania is the first to reveal all eight participants.

The eight-man field includes just one player who has previously won the event. Hield was the 3-point champion back in 2020 when he was still a member of the Kings. He also has the highest 3PT% of any of this season’s participants at 42.3% — that ranks 11th in the NBA among qualified players in 2022/23, so none of the league’s top 10 shooters are participating.

Last year’s winner, Karl-Anthony Towns, remains sidelined for the Timberwolves due to a calf strain, so he won’t get the chance to defend his title.

Markkanen will be the hometown favorite, with the event scheduled to take place this coming Saturday in Salt Lake City.

Blazers Notes: Grant, Deadline, Offseason, Lillard, Reddish

Trail Blazers forward Jerami Grant sustained a right eye contusion during Friday’s loss to Oklahoma City. Although he was cleared to return at the time, he started experiencing “concussive symptoms” on Saturday morning and was placed in the league’s concussion protocol, Portland announced in a press release.

The impending free agent was initially questionable for Monday’s game against the Lakers, but he has been downgraded to out, per the Blazers (Twitter links). Forward Kevin Knox, who was acquired in a four-team trade that also involved Golden State, Detroit and Atlanta, will be active for his first game with Portland.

Here’s more on the Blazers:

  • Grant has switched agents ahead of free agency. He is now represented by Klutch Sports Group, he confirmed to Danny Marang of 1080 The FAN (Twitter link).
  • GM Joe Cronin says he was disappointed to not add a major impact player at the trade deadline, so he instead pivoted to “asset acquisition mode,” as Jason Quick of The Athletic relays. “We want to be championship level as soon as possible. So for us, it was disappointing. We want to get out there, and we would love to have a team out here tonight that is ready to rock. We are borderline anxious to push all of our chips in. We can’t wait for that moment to happen. It just hasn’t come up yet,” he said.
  • Cronin went on to say the Blazers will aggressively build around Damian Lillard in the offseason, according to Quick. “We are going to be ridiculously aggressive, to the point where once we push our chips all the way in, like, deal-to-deal you might say ‘Wow, they lost that deal. They gave a lot for that guy.’ But no, that’s just us pushing our chips in. We feel extremely obligated to put a great roster around Damian Lillard. And when I say we, that’s from the top. Jody (Allen) and I have had a lot of conversations about how important it is for us to do right by Damian. And we plan to do that,” Cronin said.
  • Lillard believes Cam Reddish has untapped upside and hopes the Blazers can bring out the best in the fourth-year wing. “You know he has all the tools…He hasn’t found a home yet…If we can change his life and get that potential out of him, create opportunity for him to blossom, then it could be a great thing…that’s our job, to try to get it out of him,” Lillard said (Twitter video link via New York Basketball).