Is getting extra sleep while travelling the key to NBA greatness? Damian Lillard doesn’t have to hit game-winning shots to stand out. He can close them a minute or two before, enjoying another electrifying night on the floor, leading the Portland Trail Blazers to a 110-107 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Lillard was quite accurate, unlike the rest of his teammates. He shot 11-of-21 from the field to finish with 29 points, but LaMarcus Aldridge was slowed down by Anthony Davis, scoring 18 points on only 8-of-24 from the field. It didn’t’ matter in the end, as Lillard took the game on his shoulders once more, hitting a 3-point with 1:27 left in the game to give the lead to the Blazers, and they never looked back. Lillard is averaging 31.3 points over the last four games. He attributes his form, the best he’s ever been in, to getting a bit more sleep whenever possible compared to before.
Maybe it’s because I’m starting to get a few more naps in. I always tell our staff and my teammates that I never take naps. I just couldn’t do it. Lately, I’m been taking naps, so I guess that might be the difference.
If that’s the secret, we’re going to see a very different sleep regimen across the NBA. It probably has to do with Lillard playing smarter than he was last season which ended with a rookie of the year award but no playoffs. This year, he’s better, but more importantly the Blazers are doing a lot better as well, currently second in the West, winning six of their last seven games.
The Blazers shot only 43.9% from the field and 27.6% from beyond the arc. Aldridge wasn’t the only one misfiring, struggling with the long arms of Davis and even Ryan Anderson. Nicolas Batum, who had another very strong all-around game (11 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists) shot only 1-of-7 from beyond the arc. The Blazers have a system and plan which they won’t budge from, and it involves stretching the floor and constantly shooting 3’s, even on nights when the ball doesn’t find it so easy to sink in the net.
Where did the Pelicans lose this one? It comes down to not having a player like Lillard who can create points at will. Anthony Davis scored 21 points and Tyreke Evans was the same from the bench, but Evans was called for a crucial charging foul late in the game, while Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon couldn’t really get themselves open looks in the closing minutes. Making life difficult for Aldridge and Batum is one thing, but the Pelicans need someone they can trust with the ball in his hands with the game on the line in order to take the next step.
So, are the Blazers regular season good or something more? We won’t know until later on in the season. Teams getting hot in the final two months of the season are usually a better bet to make a serious run at the title than those who waste all their ammunition before the turn of the new year. The Blazers’ big test right now is going through rough shooting patches and rebounding from the losses that will come in a way that shows this team isn’t just here for 82 games and a playoff round, but a lot more.