What could be a more appropriate tribute to Kobe Bryant than coming into an emotional Staples Center, becoming the best player on the court and taking over?
It would’ve been something to celebrate — had it happened on any night other than Friday.
“It’s just a tough situation. I think everybody just feels it on the inside. It’s such an unbelievable thing and it’s such a sad thing that you just can’t wrap your head around it. But I’m not trying to make the situation about me and how I feel and all that stuff,” a solemn Damian Lillard said after scoring 48 points to beat the Lakers on the night they honored Kobe Bryant.
“It’s just a sad feeling on the inside. You just feel really bad, and that was that. When the game was over, like I said, it was a great game, but I walked off the court, there was nothing to be super hyped up or proud about, because you’re walking out and it’s on your mind.
“That was it.”
There’s a pragmatism to Lillard, a soft-spoken killer who will keep stepping backward as defenses guard him until he’s open. In his last five games, Lillard, who was named an All-Star this week, is averaging nearly 50 points, helping push the injury-ravaged Trail Blazers toward the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
Portland’s surge right before Thursday’s trade deadline — the Trail Blazers beat Houston and the Lakers in the past week — is the kind of thing that muddies things up for teams looking to clearly define who will be moving players and who will be looking to get better.
While there might not be a lot of high-end talent on the move — some contracts are too big, the fits not perfect enough and the rewards too low — teams like Portland and San Antonio could surprise people by pushing for a playoff spot instead of resetting.
It’s part of the reason why, to this point, the trade chatter has mostly been muted. Teams need to know what they want and what they realistically can be, and it might take a few more days for some teams to figure it out.
Dallas guard Luka Doncic is set to miss at least six games with his second ankle injury of the season. Doncic and the Mavericks have settled into the middle tier in the West. … Zion Williamson and Ja Morant faced off for the first time as professionals Friday, with Williamson having another monster game in New Orleans’ win over Memphis. In his first five games (three wins), Williamson is averaging 19.2 points and 7.8 rebounds on 62.5% shooting. … Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan, who was deeply upset by Bryant’s death, will return to Los Angeles for games against the Clippers and Lakers on Monday and Tuesday.