Micah Rice: OK to be excited about Lillard

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

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For Portland Trail Blazers fans, there's a light brightening the dark days of winter.

It's a star being born.

Damian Lillard is the latest twinkle for a franchise that has been no stranger to darkness. Bad luck's grip has been as strong as a black hole.

So far, this season has been defined by the MVP-caliber play of LaMarcus Aldridge. But Lillard's play in the past week gives Blazers fans reason to be excited that the next great NBA point guard might be in Portland.

Lillard hasn't just grabbed the basketball world's attention; he's got it in a headlock.

The second-year point guard is as popular as a must-have holiday gift. As Portland rose atop the Western Conference, national experts stopped by the windows to take a peek. But after Lillard's back-to-back game-winners last week against Detroit and Cleveland, observers lined up like a Black Friday sale to sing his praises.

When LeBron James tweets about your game, you're officially on the NBA's radar.

The day after returning from that four-game road trip, Lillard was at the Jantzen Beach Toys 'R Us treating 30 kids to a toy drive. He called it the highlight of his week.

Blazers fan or not, Lillard is making it really hard not to like him.

He has this team poised to reach heights not seen since Rasheed Wallace was the face of the franchise. And fans don't have to feel guilty for cheering, that they must tolerate bad behavior for the chance at a championship.

Sure, Blazers fans have reason to be excited. They also have reason to be skeptical.

This is a fan base that anointed Greg Oden a superstar before he even played a game. They saw Brandon Roy's career end less than two years after averaging 21.5 points per game.

The NBA feels like it's undergoing a changing of the guard. The era of Kobe Bryant appears over. There's room at the big-kids table alongside Kevin Durant.

Aldridge might already be there. But it's hard not to think his success has something to do with Lillard, and vice versa.

Lillard is running the league's best offense (Portland is averaging 114.5 points per 100 possessions). Plus, he has been masterful in clutch moments. Lillard's four field goals to tie or take the lead in the final 30 seconds of games are double anyone else in the NBA.

So yes Blazers fans, be excited, be skeptical, but thank your lucky stars that you might have the next elite point guard in your own back yard.

Micah Rice is The Columbian's sports editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, micah.rice@columbian.com or on Twitter @col_mrice