When Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers walked into the Staples Center in Los Angeles on the last night of January, they found a team—and a city—still draped in silent and sudden shock.
Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other passengers were killed in a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California, just a few days earlier; the Blazers/Lakers match-up was LA's first home game since the death of Bryant, who spent his entire 20 seasons with the Lakers before retiring in 2016, and leaves behind a colossal and complicated legacy.
The Lakers stalwarts—Lebron, Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo—turned in solid performances, but it was Lillard who owned the night. Dame to Oregonians, the 29-year-old Blazers point guard, who embodied the essence of Black Mamba mentality, racked up a massive 48 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.
The emotional game resulted in a 127-119 win for the Blazers, after which, Lillard told ESPN the one way he and his team could honor Kobe’s competitive spirit.
“Come out here and play our hearts out,” he said. “The one thing we knew for sure we had in common with Kobe [was the] love of this game. And we here, so, you know, we might as well come out and honor him in that way, and I thought we did that.”
In his last 10 games, Lillard has averaged 40 points per game, carrying the Blazers to victory in four out of their five most recent games—let's not talk about last night's game against the Nuggets. He’s also become the first player in NBA history with at least six three-pointers in six straight games. Lillard, alongside Zach LaVine, Devonte' Graham and others, has also been named as a participant in the upcoming 2020 NBA Three-Point Contest.
His recent stats speak for themselves:
Rightfully, he’s caught the attention of the broader NBA community, celebrities and fans alike. Here’s what people are saying about Lillard:
Chuck D of Public Enemy, Prophets of Rage:
Imo @Dame_Lillard is the most lethal player in the @NBA he has been elevated To a rare loft... and is the BEST leader I’ve seen in a very long time. @trailblazers he’s got the OG @carmeloanthony and the accomplice assassin @CJMcCollum .. Whiteside and Nirkic in the wings . Damn— Chuck D (@MrChuckD) February 3, 2020
Rob Mahoney, The Ringer:
Pulling up beyond 30 feet is not only viable for Lillard but legitimately dangerous. It is a terror upon the guards who are asked to check Lillard, and upon the bigs who are expected to step up to meet him at the point of the screen.
Chris Herring, FiveThirtyEight:
The NBA this season has missed the presence of two-time MVP Stephen Curry, who broke his left hand in October. But Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has done his best to fill the void, giving us a pretty fantastic remix lately of what makes Curry’s playing style so fascinating. And what Lillard is doing might be even more impressive than what the Golden State superstar gave us a few years back.
Dave Deckard, Blazers Edge:
Lillard is now encroaching on space occupied by players known by their first names. He’s not had the sustained success of LeBron, nor has he become legendary like Wilt, Magic, and Bird. This month he’s at least opened the door to that room and peeked in, making us wonder what could be if this version of Lillard became the new norm.
Kobe Bryant, circa 2015:
Kobe Bryant on Damian Lillard: "He’s one of the best players in the league. He’s a fantastic player.”— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) November 29, 2015