5 things the Trail Blazers should compete for: 1 – Damien Lillard should play like the best player

The Trail Blazers are scheduled to open training camp on September 27 in Santa Barbara, California. In preparation for camp, The Oregonian/OregonLive will take a look at the five biggest events you must play for the team to have a chance to compete during the 2022-23 NBA season, Chauncey Billups was the second coach.

The Portland Trail Blazers They will come out of their worst season since 2005-06 when they open a training camp.

This team went 21-61 (.256 win percentage) before beginning a three-year climb toward a winning season, which came again during the 2008-09 season (54-28).

The Blazers finished 27-55 (.329) last season, but certainly don’t expect it to take three years this time around to fall below .500. In fact, they fully expect to do so this season, and for good reason. Injuries, major deals and general chaos in the franchise contributed to last season’s disappointment. superstar keeper Damian Lillard He’s in good health and general manager Joe Cronin was able to add two players to this coach’s roster Chauncey Billups He feels a better fit for his system, including, in particular, striker Jeramy Grant and goalkeeper Gary Payton II.

The idea that the Blazers could end up above .500 is plausible simply because Lillard says he is healthier than ever and ready to return to his previous All-Star form. He saw the worst season of his career in 2021-22 while dealing with a major muscle injury that required mid-season surgery.

But could the Blazers find their way into the title race? Odds are you say no, but strange things have happened.

For example:

  • The Phoenix Suns were 26-39 in 2019-20 when the pandemic halted the season in March 2020. In the bubble in August 2020, the Suns won eight games in a row. Then they added Chris Paul, and he went 51-21 in 2020-21 and landed in the NBA Finals, losing to the Milwaukee Bucks.
  • The Boston Celtics, who won 36-36 in 2019-20, started last season 25-25 before winning 26 of their last 32 games, then marched to the NBA Finals, losing to the Golden State Warriors.

However, the Blazers will need a lot more to survive in the Western Conference, which must be stacked with playoff caliber teams. Here are the first five things that need to happen in order for the Blazers to be competitive:

1. Damien Lillard should return to the MVP model: The Blazers likely won’t have a chance to return to post-season, let alone say, if Lillard doesn’t get his magic back.

Here is a brief summary of what happens to the Blazers when Lillard plays poorly:

Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers guard, wakes up after training at Tualatin on Monday, February 7, 2022. Lillard underwent abdominal surgery on January 13. Sean Major / The Oregonian

There was a moment last season when the Blazers’ fortunes began to turn. Lillard started the season with a poor shooting period that contributed to the start of the match with a 6-8 score. But on November 15, after a 1-3 trip, the Blazers returned to Portland to start their four-game winning streak with a win over Toronto. Lillard, who is already beginning to find a stroke – scoring 29 of 62 field goals in a three-game period – hit 47.8% from the field (35 of 73), including 44.4% from a three-point range (16 of 36), while She averaged 27.5 points per game over four winning nights. In this way, the Blazers have been 10 to 8 years old and seem to have found their groove.

This concept proved premature. Over the next three games, Lillard went to 16 of 46 from the field (34.7%), including 6 of 23 on three (26%), as the Blazers lost to Sacramento, Golden State and Utah. But more important than the Blazers’ loss to the Warriors and the Jazz is that Lillard scored just 27 points in those two games and looked sluggish.

Billups revealed after the loss at Utah that Lillard was injured. Long story short, Lillard missed the next five games, goalkeeper C.J. McCollum suffered a collapsed lung, the Blazers went 2-11 in December and the season was largely toast as Portland headed into the new year with a record 13-22.

Lillard had core muscle surgery in January and never saw the field again as the Blazers went into tank mode. McCollum, Norman Powell and Robert Covington have all traded.

Lillard will play in just 29 games, averaging 24.0 points, his lowest since 2014-2015. Most worrisome were Lillard’s firing rates from the field (40.2%) and the three-point line (32.4%).

During the sabbatical, Lillard explained that undergoing surgery allowed him to get stronger, play without pain and function in his best physical shape in years.

For anything like that, Lillard has to get back to the level of play that got him running the NBA MVP in the 2018 and early 2020-21 season before injuries hit the end of the season. This version of Lillard is able to win a game almost all by himself while greatly making life easier for those around him.

Lillard kept the Blazers afloat in 2020-21 by averaging 28.8 points per game and shooting 45.1% from the field, including 39.1% from a three-point range, although McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic missed 60 games. On top of that, Lillard’s late tournaments made the Blazers a threat to win any outing that was close to stretching.

Lillard’s return to this level of play is even more urgent now that McCollum resides in New Orleans. Lillard and McCullum formed a backcourt duo capable of scoring 60 goals on any given night. Now, the Blazers will be looking to Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart and Payton to eat minutes at the shooting guard.

Payton and Hart would undoubtedly be better defenders than McCollum, and Simmons has the talent to repeat McCollum’s goals. But none of them were called to hit the number of clutch shots McCollum made over his 10 years in Portland.

Until further notice, Lillard is the only player on the roster with a long history of big shots in the big games. Lillard must be back or the Blazers won’t have a prayer to make it to the playoffs, let alone compete.

Next: Yusuf Nurkic must honor his $70 million contract.

– Aaron Winters | afentress@Oregonian.com | Tweet embed (Twitter), Tweet embed (Instagram), Tweet embed (Facebook).

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