TUALATIN, Ore. — Since game one of the season, Damian Lillard has been lighting it up from the outside and midrange while helping run one of the NBA's best offenses.
While Lillard was playing, draining back-to-back game winners while calmly showing no emotion as the Blazers shot off to a great start, there was something missing from his game that fans had come to know.
He was attacking the basket, trying to make crafty finishes that weren't going in quite like they were last season. He was shooting 47 percent inside the restricted area, down from 52.5 percent in his rookie season.
As the Blazers returned from the All-Star break and LaMarcus Aldridge has missed three games, Lillard has been more aggressive, especially around the basket.
What's been the key?
Nothing complicated, just work.
"I've just been sticking with it," Lillard said. "Sticking with what I've been doing and not going away from it because I had some misses and a little bit of a hard time finishing to start the season off."
Last season, Lillard received a boost around the same time when the Blazers acquired Eric Maynor to bring in someone else to alleviate the burden of setting up the offense every possession.
Lillard also prides himself on not only how he plays but how hard he works during the offseason to make sure his body can deal with the rigors of 82 games.
"The training, the body maintenance and how I keep my body strong to get through the 82 games. It's coming back around," he said of the conditioning coming into play with these midseason bumps in percentage around the basket.
"A lot of those finishes off the glass and spins off the glass are starting to fall," Lillard said.
The Blazers have needed Lillard's aggression even more as of late. They are playing fast and are spacing the floor and Lillard has room to penetrate.
Overall in the last three game without Aldridge, Lillard averaged over 30 points, six assists on 50 percent shooting from three and 53 percent from the field overall.
Before the All-Star break Lillard was shooting 42.4 percent from the field and 40 percent from three.
Lillard is red hot around the basket over the last three games, scoring at an above league average rate. He's 16-for-25 in the last three games inside the restricted area.
For however much longer the Blazers are going to be without Aldridge, one thing is certain: They will need Lillard to continue to be aggressive.
"Keep playing with that energy and toughness," Lillard said. "Especially when we are a guy short like we are, without our best player. We got to step up and play with that type of energy."