Damian Lillard’s 50-point performance can’t save the Blazers in an increasingly familiar trend

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Portland Trail Blazers are skidding. They need an incredible performance by Damian Lillard just to compete. He gives them his best game of the season – and they still find a way to lose.

That’s what happened Thursday night in Portland. The Blazers, losers of four straight, needed Lillard to spark them to life against a strong Cleveland Cavaliers opponent. He did just that: 50 points on 16-of-28 shooting to help the Blazers build a 14-point lead that eventually went to waste. The Cavs rallied to win, 119-113. Portland’s losing streak is up to five.

If this all sounds familiar, well, it should. In March 2019, Lillard gave the Blazers 51 points, but Portland took the lead in the second half and gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a 129-121 overtime victory. Eight months later, he posted 60 points on the Brooklyn Nets. His teammates couldn’t even match that, combining for 55 points on 21-of-64 shooting as the Nets left Portland with a surprise victory.

Lillard is now the third player in the last five seasons to lose three or more 50-point games, joining Bradley Beal and James Harden (who have four). Neither name should be particularly surprising. In many ways, Beal is Lillard’s Eastern Conference doppelganger: a high-scoring guard who has chosen to remain with an inferior team rather than pursue a championship elsewhere. Harden has been far more proactive. He’s changed teams twice in that span — and let’s just say the honeymoons didn’t last. Even now, on his third team in three seasons, rumors suggest he might want to return to Houston.

If those are Lillard’s only options, he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. Thursday’s loss dropped the Blazers to 11th in the Western Conference at 19-22. They’ve lost nine of their last 11 games, and even though he’s beaten up, Lillard has played in all of them. Their defense, even in an improved state, still ranks just 19th in the NBA. Their offense has fallen to 14th, making this the first time they’ve been out of the top three in a healthy Lillard season since 2018. Lillard, who scores over 27 points per game while shooting about his career average, does it all in his power.

And yet his big games continue to go to waste for a team that looks less viable by the day. In a crowded Western Conference, even a single loss can have drastic seeding consequences. Things don’t get any easier from here for the Blazers, who will host a series with the Mavericks this weekend before facing the Nuggets, 76ers and Lakers. A bad stretch could push the Blazers down to 13th in the conference.

Lillard has made his position clear. He’s not going anywhere. But if this season continues to spiral, the Blazers will have to rethink the way they build around him, because seeing an icon like Lillard keep losing his best games won’t remain sustainable forever.

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