Damian Lillard makes an MVP surge
Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard furthered his MVP case with career-highs of 71 points and 13 three-pointers in Sunday’s 131-114 win over the Houston Rockets.
the eighth-most in a single game
Lillard also finished with six rebounds and six assists as his team moved within a half-game of the final spot in the play-in tournament. He tied Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell for the season-high in points scored and David Robinson and Elgin Baylor for the eighth-most in a single game.
Sportsbooks are having a tough time figuring out where to place Lillard’s MVP odds. FanDuel sportsbook has him at a whopping +49000, while Caesars has him at a much shorter but still unlikely +12500. Needless to say, performances like Sunday’s will catalyze his MVP case even further.
A career night
Sunday was the epitome of “Dame Time,” or the nickname for whenever Lillard is in the zone – especially near the end of the game.
The 32-year-old went into halftime with a ridiculous 41 points and eight three-pointers. He has had many games where he explodes for a half but fails to come back out with the same level of effectiveness in the second half.
Sunday night was not one of those nights.
Lillard returned from the locker room to pour in another 30 points in the second, including a dagger three-pointer with just over two-and-a-half minutes left. He finished the night with 71 points on 22-38 shooting, including 13-22 from three, and 14-14 from the free-throw line.
the most efficient 71-point-plus game in league history
Portland’s longtime superstar also had a true shooting percentage of 80.4, which means that he is the sole owner of the most efficient 71-point-plus game in league history. For comparison, Mitchell (22-34 FG, 7-15 3PT, 20-25 FT) had a true shooting percentage of 78.9 during his spectacular game on January 2.
The 71-point explosion is the highlight of a tear Lillard started in early January. Across his last 22 games, he is averaging 38 points and 7.1 assists per night on over 51% from the field and 40.1% from beyond the arc. Truly historic numbers for a member of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.
As much as Lillard’s MVP stock is skyrocketing, it may be too little too late. Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid have mostly opened a two-man race now that Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetotkounmpo is out with an injury.
Jokic is hunting his third MVP in as many years. If he succeeds in his quest, he will become just the fourth player in league history with three straight MVPs, joining Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Larry Bird.
The next MVP that Embiid wins will be his first. He finished as runner-up in each of the last two ballots and appears destined for the same fate unless he can pull off a huge turnaround over the final 23 games.
To Embiid’s credit, he dominated Jokic in their only regular-season matchup this year. He led his team to a 126-119 win with 47 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocks.
Most sportsbooks agree that Lillard is hovering somewhere around eighth in overall MVP odds. Jokic, Embiid, Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, and LeBron James are all ahead of him, and he is neck-and-neck with Kevin Durant.
Lillard’s best chance to further his MVP case, aside from producing more jaw-dropping box scores, is to help his team climb the Western Conference standings. No player has won an MVP finishing below the sixth seed in the last 48 years, and Lillard’s Blazers are currently trapped in 11th.
In addition, no modern MVP’s team has had a record worse than 46-35 (Russell Westbrook in 2016-17). Based on the current trajectory, the Blazers are expected to finish 40-42.
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