Two of the top three scorers in the NBA will share the floor when the Washington Wizards visit the streaking Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night.
NBA scoring leader Bradley Beal (32.8 points per game) of the Wizards was tabbed as an All-Star starter for the first time on Thursday, while Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard (third at 29.8) was passed over for a starting spot.
Starting the prestigious game has been a long time coming for the 27-year-old Beal, who will be making his third appearance but first in a prominent role. It felt especially good to him because he didn’t even make the Eastern Conference squad last season when he finished with a 30.5 scoring average.
“To go from being snubbed to starting this year is a huge honor,” Beal told reporters. “I thank the fans, my peers, the media — everybody who had a say so in voting for me. It’s a huge honor. I don’t take it for granted. It’s definitely a motivation for me to continue to be a mentor, to be a better player.”
This time around, it was the 30-year-old Lillard getting the snub treatment.
He tied with Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic for the final Western Conference starting spot but fan balloting was the tiebreaker. Doncic finished second among Western Conference guards in the fan vote to get the nod over Lillard, who was third.
Lillard is a virtual lock to be named to the team as a reserve. He said he wasn’t surprised to be passed over as a starter and wasn’t upset.
“Even before the NBA, I was always the person to get the shorter end of the stick,” Lillard said Friday. “That’s been my story. I wasn’t recruited heavily, I went to Weber State. Even when I was the sixth pick of the (2012) draft, people really didn’t know who I was.”
Lillard and Beal met on Feb. 2 in Washington with the Trail Blazers posting a 132-121 win for their fourth straight triumph over the Wizards. Lillard scored 32 points and Beal had a game-high 37.
This time, Lillard will be looking to help the red-hot Trail Blazers extend their season-best winning streak to seven games.
He was superb on Wednesday when he scored 43 points and matched his career high of 16 assists in a 126-124 road win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Lillard also converted the decisive three-point play with 16.5 seconds left.
Portland’s winning streak has been impressive as it continues to play well without injured starters CJ McCollum (fractured foot) and Jusuf Nurkic (fractured wrist).
“Everybody is coming in and doing their job,” Lillard said. “I’m not just saying that to give people credit. It looks the way it does because everybody is coming in and doing their job. Without CJ, Nurk, we don’t win these games if it’s not collective the way it’s been.”
The Wizards are also playing well with a season-best three consecutive victories. They began the streak with double-digit victories over the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets before delivering a solid 130-128 home win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.
Beal made two free throws with 0.1 seconds left to win the contest. He also contributed 25 points and a season-best 10 assists but wasn’t the best player wearing a Washington uniform.
Teammate Davis Bertans was hotter than lava with career bests of 35 points and nine 3-pointers. He fell one shy of the franchise mark set by Trevor Ariza on Feb. 12, 2014.
“We had great ball-movement, guys gave me a couple good looks in the beginning and when those shots went down, from there it just keeps going,” Bertans said after the 9-of-11 long-range performance. “They start looking for me even more, running more plays for me and I’m just taking advantage of that. When the shot is falling, sometimes there’s not much the defense can do.”
Bertans has made 14 of 17 3-pointers over the past two games after being 13 of 39 over the previous five contests.
–Field Level Media