The Portland Trail Blazers plan to shut down star guard Damian Lillard for the remainder of the season, according to Chris Haynes. Lillard has been dealing with a calf injury that has kept him out of the team's last three games.
With Lillard out of the lineup, the Blazers have lost all three of those games to continue a late-season slide that has essentially eliminated them from play-in tournament contention. They have dropped nine of their last 10 games to fall to 32-43 on the season, and are now five games back of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the No. 10 spot in the Western Conference.
After playing just 29 games last season due to abdominal surgery, Lillard was again hampered by various injuries, most notably continuous calf problems. As a result, he was limited to 58 games this time around, but was fantastic when he did play. He averaged a career-high 32.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists, was named an All-Star for the seventh time and hit the game-winning shot in this year's All-Star Game in Salt Lake City. In addition, he made history with a career-high 71-point performance against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 26.
This is a disappointing end to the season for Lillard and the Blazers, who will miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2012 and 2013, and just the fourth time in franchise history. However, it does make sense to sit Lillard at this point. He hasn't been fully healthy for a while, and it would take a miracle for them to get back in the play-in tournament mix.
Even if they did somehow get in, they have little to gain. Whereas, by tanking the rest of the way, they can try to secure the fifth-best lottery odds in what is considered to be a potentially historic draft. The Blazers' 2023 first-round pick, which they owe to the Chicago Bulls via the Larry Nance Jr. trade, is also lottery protected, giving them an extra incentive to stay out of the playoffs.
Entering Tuesday's slate, only one game separates the Blazers, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards in the standings, and the "race" for the fifth-worst record in the league will be significant. The drop-off from the fifth-best lottery odds (9.8 percent chance of the No. 1 pick and 39.8 percent chance of a top-four pick) to the eighth-best (six percent chance of the No. 1 pick and 26.2 percent chance of a top-four pick is significant.
As for Lillard's future beyond this season, he has consistently stated that he wants to remain in Portland. But will that remain the case after another lottery trip and injury-riddled season? According to Shams Charania, the team will have "real conversations" this offseason about the franchise's direction.