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Blazers ponder Damien Lillard’s health with Thunder up next

Mar 22, 2023; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) looks on during a time out against the Utah Jazz in the third quarter at Vivint Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

With the Portland Trail Blazers drowning in defeats, seven-time All-Star guard Damian Lillard likely won’t be seen on the court for the rest of the season.

Speculation was heating up that the Trail Blazers were on the verge of shutting Lillard down for the season, and it looks like that will be the case, as he has already been ruled out for Sunday’s meeting with the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder. Portland has nine games remaining.

Lillard sat out due to calf tightness on Friday when Portland was whipped 124-96 by the visiting Chicago Bulls for the club’s seventh loss in eight games. The Trail Blazers (32-41) have been unable to make a charge for a Western Conference play-in spot and entered Saturday 3 1/2 games behind the 10th and final spot.

Lillard conceded earlier in the week that his season could end if the team didn’t quickly turn things around.

“We’re on a losing streak. We’ve pretty much fallen out of the race for the 10th spot unless we go out there and win every game,” Lillard told reporters. “I love to play, I love the competition and I haven’t been ready to give that up. But there does come a point in time when do you stop putting your competitive nature out front?”

Lillard enjoyed a monster season with averages of 32.2 points and 7.3 assists in 58 games but has often experienced calf issues. The scoring average is a career high, and his season was topped by a career-best 71-point effort against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 26.

Hurting matters against the Bulls was that Lillard wasn’t the only starter in street clothes. Also out were center Jusuf Nurkic (knee), forward Jerami Grant (quadriceps) and guard Anfernee Simons (foot).

Nurkic, Grant and Simons will also be out Sunday.

Portland rookie Shaedon Sharpe has scored a career-best 24 points in each of the past two games and could receive a bigger role during Lillard’s absence.

Sharpe, who was selected seventh overall in the draft, made four 3-pointers in each of the contests.

“I thought offensively he was pretty good, defensively he wasn’t bad, but tough matchup for him,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said about Sharpe having to guard Zach LaVine, who had 33 points. “That’s the reason why I wanted to put him on Zach, he needs to see what it’s like in the fire.”

Portland is 0-3 against the Thunder this season and has dropped seven straight meetings against its division foe.

Oklahoma City (36-38) has lost two straight games after winning eight of its previous 10. The Thunder were tied for 10th place entering Saturday.

Oklahoma City is 1-2 on a four-game road trip after falling 116-111 to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.

The Thunder trailed by as many as 17 against the Lakers and gave up 41 first-quarter points and 74 by halftime. But they were able to make it a game by allowing just 42 in the second half.

“That’s a testament to our ability to scrap and hang in there,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said. “That’s how you want teams to score against you. All the things they got down the stretch are things we’re willing to live with. It’s hard to slow that down.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey each scored 27 points against Los Angeles. Giddey also had a season-high 17 rebounds and added seven assists.

Giddey was pleased the Thunder fought back from the early hole.

“They’re an experienced team. They’ve been in that situation a lot. They understand what’s at stake, and they punched us early, and we took it, we didn’t get knocked down,” Giddey said. “We fought, we clawed back into the game and eventually got it tied. We gave ourselves every chance to get this game (Friday), but it starts with not digging the 17-point hole that you have to climb out of.”

–Field Level Media

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