Damian Lillard stays hot with 51 as Blazers torch Jazz
PORTLAND, Ore. — Damian Lillard says the secret to his hot streak is sticking to what works.
Lillard had 51 points, including nine 3-pointers, and 12 assists as the Portland Trail Blazers handed the Utah Jazz their season-high fourth straight loss with a 124-107 victory Saturday night.
It was Lillard’s NBA-record sixth straight game with at least six 3-pointers.
“I’m just sticking to my routine,” he said. “I don’t think people understand how easy it is — once the season gets going and you start wearing down and getting tired, traveling, personal stuff you’ve got to deal with, it’s easy to get sidetracked from your routine.”
For Lillard, that means a nightly 25-minute shooting workout, making 100 free throws, 15 minutes of ball-handling drills. Cold tubs in the morning. Eating and sleeping right.
Clearly, it’s working.
Lillard has scored 40 or more points in five of his last six games, averaging 48.8 points over the span. It was his fourth straight double-double, a career best.
He’s had three 50-plus games in his last six.
When Lillard went to the line to shoot a free throw that gave him 50 points, the crowd at Moda Center chanted “MVP! MVP!” He then sank his second free throw before heading to the bench with 2:15 left.
Hassan Whiteside added 17 points and 21 rebounds for the Blazers, who won their fourth straight to match their season high.
Donovan Mitchell had 25 led the Jazz with 25 points.
“No need to panic but we’ve got to figure it out,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to have a good practice to get it back. It’s a complete 180 to where we were about a week ago so we’ve got to lock in and fix it, otherwise it’s going to be a (bad) All-Star break.”
Portland was coming off an emotional 127-119 victory at the Los Angeles Lakers the night before. It was the Lakers’ first game at home following the death of Kobe Bryant last Sunday.
Lillard had 48 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds against the Lakers, becoming the first league player since the 1983-84 season with at least 35 points, five rebounds and five assists in five straight games. He had 40 3-pointers over that span, also a first in the league.
Lillard is the reigning Western Conference player of the week after averaging 52.7 points last week, including a franchise-record 61 points on Jan. 20 against the Golden State Warriors.
“He’s in the MVP conversation in my opinion,” Mitchell said. “He understood where the team was in the playoff situation obviously with guys hurt, and he’s taken it upon himself to go out there and do it. He’s on a hell of a run.”
As are the Blazers, who have won seven of 10.
“I think it’s just coming together. I think that’s the best way to describe it,” Lillard said. “We’re getting healthier, we’re starting to figure out what works for us.”
Carmelo Anthony returned to the starting lineup for the Trail Blazers after missing Friday night’s game in Los Angeles. Anthony was a close friend of Bryant’s.
Mike Conley made his first start for the Jazz since Dec. 17. Conley has been coming off the bench as he returned from a nagging hamstring injury.
Conley got off to a fast start. His 3-pointer gave the Jazz a 32-21 lead and he finished the first quarter with 11 points. But Portland closed the gap to 34-33 going into the second quarter after Nassir Little’s dunk.
Back-to-back baskets from Trevor Ariza gave the Blazers a 45-42 lead midway through the period. Lillard’s 3-pointer gave the Blazers a 63-53 lead at the half. Lillard led all scorers at the break with 23 points.
Utah closed to with 68-65 but Lillard’s consecutive baskets held the Jazz off. Little’s 3-pointer gave the Blazers a 91-73 lead before the third quarter was over.
Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic each finished with 22 points for the Jazz.
Jazz: Utah was held to just 19 points in the second quarter. … The Jazz are one of just two teams to allow an opposing player 50-plus points three times this season.
Trail Blazers: Coach Terry Stotts said before the game that big man Jusuf Nurkic, who is working his way back from a broken leg, sat out of practice last week with a right calf strain. … Lillard has eight straight games with 30-plus points.
NO MORE WORDS
Stotts has said all he possibly can about Lillard at this point.
“Don’t ask me about Dame. I’m all out of superlatives. Don’t ask me to explain it. Don’t ask me what I think. Write what you want, because it’s fun to watch and he’s playing exceptional basketball,” Stotts said.
Jazz: Host the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
Trail Blazers: Visit the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night.