Damian Lillard’s heroics weren’t enough to save the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers missed the playoffs for the second straight season even though Lillard averaged a career-high 32.2 points a game, third-best in the league. Inopportune injuries and inconsistent play plagued Portland.
It mercifully ended Sunday, with a 157-101 drubbing by Golden State. Lillard and fellow regular starters Jusuf Nurkic, Jerami Grant and Anfernee Simons all watched from the bench.
“I would say underwhelming. Frustrating,” Lillard said when asked to describe the season. “There were a lot of things, never fully being healthy, never being able to put a consistent stretch together. It was just a season full of ups and downs.”
Now Portland will look forward to the draft lottery and free agency.
The Blazers embarked on the season with high hopes that offseason moves would pay off. The team added Grant, local product Drew Eubanks and Gary Payton II, who was fresh off a championship with the Golden State Warriors.
It was the first season Portland planned to start a Lillard and Simons backcourt after trading away Lillard’s longtime partner CJ McCollum the previous year.
Coach Chauncey Billups said his goal was to be connected, but the team never got the chance to develop that connection. He said Sunday he’s glad the season is over.
“I think you all know how I feel about losing and about this. I don’t like it. I don’t like it. So I’m glad it’s over and hope that I’m never in this position again,” Billups said. “And we’re going to try and do everything necessary that hopefully none of us are in the position again. Because it’s no fun.”
The season wasn’t without some high points — namely Damian Lillard’s 71-point game. He set the franchise and career record in a late February game against the Houston Rockets. He also finished with 13 3-pointers.
That moment makes the disappointing season that much harder to accept.
“I come into every season trying to do whatever I can to make that turn into winning. And I think this year I did have my best year individually, but it didn’t lead to wins, so I don’t think there’s really any way for me to reconcile with that,” he said. “I’m still going into the summer thinking, man, how did that happen?”
After the spark that Payton gave the Warriors the previous season in the playoffs, it was hoped he’d do the same for the Blazers.
He signed a $28 million, three-year contract last summer but missed the first 35 games of the season in Portland because of a core injury that required surgery. He played in 15 games after returning before he was dealt back to the Warriors in a four-team trade. Soon thereafter, reports surfaced that Payton had not passed his physical.
The trade went through, but the Warriors asked the league to determine whether the Trail Blazers withheld information. Later reports surfaced that the Warriors would not further pursue the matter.
Of all the players on the Blazers’ roster, the one who probably took the biggest advantage of the team’s ever-shifting rotation was 19-year-old rookie Shaedon Sharpe.
Sharpe was the seventh overall pick in the draft out of Kentucky, but he never played for the Wildcats. He graduated high school early with the intention of redshirting his freshman year, but then decided to declare for the draft.
Sharpe averaged 9.8 point in 79 games this season, wowing fans with a number of highlight-reel dunks. He started in Portland’s final nine games, scoring 20-plus points in all but one of them. He was the only rookie in the league with 27-plus points, six-plus rebounds and six-plus assists in multiple games this season.