Damian Lillard has returned with a vengeance for the Portland Trail Blazers, who continue their six-game road trip against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday.
Lillard is averaging 34.4 points over his last five games after missing two weeks in late November with a right calf injury. The six-time All-Star scored 37 points in a 128-112 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.
Portland has won three straight and five of its last six with Lillard leading the way. He is shooting 52.9 percent from the field and 50.7 percent from 3-point range since returning.
“His pace, his change of speed is so good right now,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “In pick-and-rolls, he’s keeping the defense off kilter so well. Obviously, he’s such a threat to shoot it from wherever, but he’s getting to that basket and he’s making that extra play, the passes for the team. He’s setting an incredible tone for us every night.”
Lillard added eight assists and five rebounds in the win over San Antonio and was 14-for-23 shooting from the field, including 7-of-14 shooting from 3-point range.
Portland is looking to reverse a negative trend against Dallas, which has won the last five meetings between the teams by an average of 26 points.
The Mavericks are concluding a three-game homestand that hit a speed bump on Wednesday, when the Cleveland Cavaliers led wire-to-wire in a 105-90 victory.
Dallas coach Jason Kidd changed up his starting lineup for the second half, with Reggie Bullock replacing Dorian Finney-Smith and Christian Wood replacing Dwight Powell.
While the changes helped on the defensive end, Dallas’ offensive woes continued. The Mavericks shot 39.2 percent from the field for the game and 13 of 38 (34.2 percent) from 3-point range.
“You could look at the subs. You could look at a lot of things,” Kidd said. “I just think that we just couldn’t get in sync. We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”
The Mavericks’ interior game struggled again without 6-foot-10 forward Maxi Kleber, who sat out with a sprained right knee and is reportedly out for six to eight weeks.
Kleber’s absence places a greater burden on Wood, who scored 20 points in a season-high-tying 35 minutes on Wednesday.
“Maxi’s been big for this team for years,” the forward said. “His defensive presence could have for sure helped tonight. He helps me out tremendously on the defensive end, where I can just piggyback off of his energy.”
Friday’s contest features a dynamic scoring duel between Lillard and Mavericks star Luka Doncic, who has scored at least 20 points in a franchise-record 35 straight games.
Cleveland double-teamed Doncic in the first half on Wednesday, holding him to 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
The Mavericks may need to take a similar approach against Lillard, who appears rejuvenated after missing a total of 12 games since Oct. 28.
“We’re able to get him good looks and allow him to not work so hard,” Portland guard Josh Hart said. “He’s in a zone and hopefully he can keep being in that zone for a while.”
–Field Level Media