We've got to be able to play through the adversity, we've got to be able to play through the hard times and continue to fight. And that's what we'll do. —Damian Lillard
SALT LAKE CITY — Statistically speaking, Damian Lillard is having arguably the best season of his NBA career.
But it's been a frustrating time for him because he and his Portland Trail Blazers teammates haven't been winning like they've grown accustomed to during the past few years.
Indeed, after three straight NBA playoff appearances, including two trips to the Western Conference semifinals, Lillard and the Blazers have sputtered to a 23-33 record following Wednesday night's 111-88 loss to the Utah Jazz.
Lillard shouldn't have to shoulder too much of the blame for Portland's struggles. After all, the former Weber State star came into Wednesday's matchup as the league's seventh-leading scorer with a career-best average of 26.0 points per game.
The 6-foot-3 point guard was also averaging 5.8 assists and a career-high 4.9 rebounds per game before Wednesday, and he ranked 4th in the NBA in free-throw percentage at 90.4 and was 10th in minutes per game played (35.9) thus far this season.
But despite his superb individual stats, the Blazers have not been able to come close to replicating previous years' successes. Lillard is taking it all in stride with great perspective.
"We had a really good year last year," he said Wednesday following Portland's shootaround at Vivint Arena. "You know, it's a tough league. Individuals get better, teams get better. Sometimes things don't go your way, and I believe that sometimes it's your turn to go through that adversity. It's your turn to have that type of experience where you've got to go through a little bit of a struggle.
"And this year, we've had maybe 30 games that have come down the stretch to the last couple minutes of the game. In the past, we've been really good in those situations and we've won games. And this year, other teams have been getting it done more times than we have. So it's not like we're just losing game after game after game. It comes down to a 2 1/2-, 3-minute game, and we're not winning those short games like we have in the past.
"So you get a loss for that; there's no moral victories or anything like that, you get a loss for it," Lillard said. "And we've got to be able to play through the adversity, we've got to be able to play through the hard times and continue to fight. And that's what we'll do."
While the Trail Blazers' struggles have been a disappointment to the fifth-year pro, Lillard certainly hasn't given up on this season, as Portland came into Wednesday's game with the 10th-best record in the West, just a couple games behind Denver for the last playoff spot.
"It's tough to deal with it, but we're professionals and we are very fortunate to have lost as many close games as we have and still be in position to make the playoffs," he said. "So it's not like we've had a tough season and have nothing to play for; we still have something to play for, so I think we should appreciate that."
Lillard, who poured in 39 points in Portland's season-opening victory over Utah back in late-October, managed just 13 points — matching his second-lowest total of the season — on a shaky 3-of-19 shooting night in Wednesday's lopsided loss. Before that, he had averaged 29.3 ppg in his previous six games against the Jazz.
While his overall numbers this season would seem to have earned him a spot in Sunday's annual All-Star Game, the two-time All-Star was left off this year's Western Conference squad, just as he was last year.
"Even the second time I made it, I was an injury replacement," said Lillard, 26. "Last year, I felt like I should have been there and I wasn't. ... But once it happened last year and I really didn't go, I think that made it easier this year to just kinda be like, whatever.2 comments on this story
"I know that it has nothing to do with me. Regardless of what you say, I still go out there and produce and I also understand that our team isn't having a great year. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. I don't really need the validation of that anymore, even though I would like to be there. So I've moved on from it."
In fact, since he won't be headed to All-Star weekend in New Orleans, Lillard instead planned to stay over in Utah and attend Weber State's home game Thursday night against Northern Colorado.
After all, the Dee Events Center was his home court for four years, and this guy still bleeds Wildcat purple.