Damian Lillard is the best thing about Portland right now – and that includes its legendary breweries. It would be a big upset to see playoff basketball in the Rose City come May, but the rookie point guard is what is keeping that city’s hoops hopes from wilting altogether. His latest feat was hitting a 25-foot three-pointer with just a fraction of a second left on the clock to stun New Orleans on Sunday night, 95-94, a high-arcing three over the outstretched arm of 6-10 Ryan Anderson (26 points). Portland has the luxury of having one of the most offensively gifted forwards in the NBA in LaMarcus Aldridge (20 points but just three boards), but the aura that surrounds Lillard’s game is so strong few could have thought the ball was going in anyone else’s hands on the final possession – even if Aldridge hadn’t hobbled off the court with less than a minute left. It was Lillard’s fourth three of the night, to finish with 16 points. It also was the final coda on a 16-point comeback that reminded us of Portland’s big rally in Cleveland on Dec. 1 that kick-started this new life from the Blazers, winners of five of their last seven. He didn’t shoot that well, just 5-of-14, but never really killed the Blazers either with just one turnover and few forced drives. Lillard’s final shot will get the superlatives but undersized J.J. Hickson is becoming one of Portland’s most dependable players, too. With 24 and 16 he recorded his fifth straight double-double. Nicolas Batum was simply everywhere, with 11 points, 10 assists, and five steals, rebounds and blocks each. Lillard, though, is quickly entering Kyrie Irving territory and becoming a player you hate to turn away from. … Sacramento got steamrolled by Denver at home, 122-97, showing the kind of energy befitting a team playing in Sleep Train Arena. When Aaron Brooks got in Andre Miller‘s face on a hard foul, it was about the emotional high-water mark of the game for the Kings, who were down by 30 to start the fourth. Andre Iguodala had a classic Iggy game, getting 11 points, eight boards and eight dimes and filling in where needed. If his team loses it’s, “Why didn’t he take more control?” and if he wins it’s “What a perfect teammate!” … JaVale McGee had 19 points for Denver because he simply was not pushed out of the lane. Every one of his seven buckets came within four feet. … Hit the jump to read about how Andrew Bynum was “stunted” long before his injury …
It seems the most publicized statistic this season has been the Lakers’ record when Kobe Bryant scores 30 points. Whether you’re the kind of person who revels in the losses that have piled up as Bryant’s points also increase, or you’re a Lakers fan who’s a steadfast Kobe supporter through thick and thin, two things are inarguable this season: Kobe’s doin’ work, and the Lakers outside of him are a mess. Even after a 111-98 win in Philadelphia on Sunday in a Kobe homecoming game (he got almost as many cheers as boos during pregame introductions), the Lakers (11-14) haven’t suddenly found the winning elixir cure-all. And one former teammate of Kobe’s says he’s the culprit for L.A.’s struggles. Yes, Andrew Bynum speaks from experience when he said “I could definitely see how it could stunt growth” to play alongside Kobe. Why’d you never become the league’s best center, Andrew? Kobe, he’s saying – and he’s so right that even Kobe agreed with him. According to Lakers reporter Mike Trudell, Bryant’s 34 points Sunday was his sixth-straight game he scored at least 30 points in, which makes him only the third player in NBA history to get at least 30 in at least five straight over the age of 34 since Kareem and MJ. Everyone knows that Kobe eats first but Bynum said, look, there weren’t enough leftovers for me to grow to my full potential. Again, Bryant didn’t doubt the truth about Bynum’s comments, saying that when he and Shaq played together, they had to divvy up the possessions too, but they found a way to make it work and led to titles. One huge difference though: Shaq came in as the big dog, while Bynum was just learning while Kobe went through arguably his most selfish phase of his career. Philly was supposed to be Bynum’s breakout chance without a star to fight for touches. Who knows when he actually gets that chance, though … One thing Kobe does doubt? Bynum’s awful hair. He said he went out of his way to bust him up over that perm. … In case you were wondering, yes, the Lakers are now on a two-game win streak and L.A.’s newest center had a pretty nice game, too, with Dwight Howard getting 17 and 10. Philadelphia is like a boat without a rudder right now with Jrue Holiday out, leaving the unpredictable Nick Young (30 points) as its best offensive player. It’s three straight losses for the Sixers. … Other than a high-reaching block from Ed Davis on a driving Jeremy Lin on Sunday at Air Canada Centre, there wasn’t a ton of defense being played; the attitude of Raptors-Rockets was like a staring contest in the middle of a 400-meter dash. With Jose Calderon and James Harden (28 points) thrashing the concept of perimeter defense, it was a pretty fun game to catch in the matinee Sunday slot. Calderon would finish with 18 points, 14 assists and 10 boards in a 103-96 win that, eventually, was won thanks to the Raptors shot-blocking (a 13-1 advantage) and shot-altering. Several blocks were turned into buckets at the other end for Alan Anderson (24 points) in transition, an offensive boost the Rockets didn’t have an answer for 1) off its own bench or 2) in the final seconds, when Anderson got free for a jumper off DeMar DeRozan‘s pass (to go with his 19 points) to put Toronto up five and ice it. … We’re out like the Hornets’ fourth-quarter D.
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