"He's going to get better—that's the scary part," Los Angeles Lakers point guard Ronnie Price said about Damian Lillard after Sunday's 106-94 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center.
Price finished with a career-high 12 assists, but the veteran point guard sounded more focused on Lillard than himself, and he wasn't alone.
Giving the Lakers a strong sense of déjà vu, Lillard took over a game that was competitive for three quarters and left no doubt by the final buzzer. In Portland on Monday, Lillard outscored the Lakers 16-11 in the final 5:55 to hand the shorthanded Lakers a tough road loss. Six days later in LA, the Blazers' point guard scored 17 points in the final period, including an emphatic dunk that sent a clear message of superiority.
"He went up and just kept going," teammate LaMarcus Aldridge said about Lillard's emphatic dunk after the game. "The guy he dunked on asked why the ref called it so late, and I said, 'because he was mesmerized by the way he had dunked it.'"
The Lakers trailed the Blazers by only three points after three quarters. After four quarters, the Lakers lost by 12, and Lillard's ferocious finishing down the stretch had everyone talking after the game.
"He's just a hell of a player--that's what I saw," Lakers coach Byron Scott said about Lillard after the game. "He's pretty damn good."
The 24-year-old finished with 34 points and seven assists, and one had the feeling he would only get better if the game continued for another quarter or two.
"Basketball-wise, I haven't seen anything that he can't do," Scott added. "Point guard-wise, he's in that class of top point guards in the league in my opinion."
For the Lakers, Sunday also marked the return of Wesley Johnson from two games out due to a strained hip flexor. In his first game back, Johnson finished as the team's top scorer and shot 50 percent from the field. In all, Johnson had a good night. However, Johnson's 17 points matched what Lillard put up in the final period alone, which helped illustrate the talent gap between one of the NBA's elite players and the current Lakers' roster.
Kobe Bryant, who most still consider to be a top level player, sat out his second consecutive game as the Lakers attempt to rest their 36-year-old super star with the hopes of preserving him for the remainder of this season and all of next season. Bryant also sat out the 98-94 loss in Portland on Monday and the 101-84 victory against Orlando on Friday.
In all, Bryant has missed six of the Lakers' last 11 games.
Quote of the night
"He's fun to watch. I wanted to get some popcorn and just have a seat." - LaMarcus Aldridge on teammate Damian Lillard