Stopping Blazers' Lillard will be a challenge for Heat
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Point guard Damian Lillard, perhaps the NBA's most underrated superstar, will be the main attraction on Saturday night when the Portland Trail Blazers visit the Miami Heat.
The Blazers (3-1) are coming off their first road game of the season, defeating the Orlando Magic 128-114 on Thursday. Lillard scored 41 points in that game, including 34 in the second half.
Lillard was particularly hot in the third quarter, scoring 19 points on three 3-pointers and five layups. But Lillard, who also had seven points and six rebounds, is more than just a scorer.
He plays the total game.
"Even when I'm not making shots," Lillard told the media Thursday, "I can still impact the game."
The Heat (2-2) are well aware of Lillard, especially after getting swept in two games against Portland last season.
Miami did a good job against Lillard in their first meeting last season, holding him to 18 points on Dec. 13. Still, Portland won by seven points.
In the second game, played March 12, Lillard had 32 points and made 7 of 14 3-pointers and 9 of 10 free throws. He also had 10 assists as Portland won by 16 points.
It will be interesting to see how Heat All-Star point guard Goran Dragic handles Lillard. In the two games last season, Dragic averaged 17.0 points but was minus-24 plus/minus.
So far this season, Lillard is averaging 31.8 points and 6.8 assists. Dragic is averaging 16.8 points and 5.5 assists.
The matchup to watch inside is between two 7-foot centers, Portland's Jusuf Nurkic and Miami's Hassan Whiteside.
Last season, Whiteside missed both games against Portland because of injuries and Nurkic went off in the second game of the series, posting 27 points, 16 rebounds and a plus-19.
However, Whiteside is coming off his best game of this season, putting up 22 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in Miami's 110-87 win over the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
"We stepped on them," Heat forward Rodney McGruder said of the Knicks, "and we never looked back."
The Heat have been plagued by injuries early this season. Shooting guard Dion Waiters (ankle) and forward James Johnson (hernia) have been ruled out of Saturday's game. Shooting guard Wayne Ellington (ankle) and forwards Justise Winslow (hamstring) and Derrick Jones (foot) are questionable.
With all of those injuries, shooting guard Josh Richardson (19.3) has stepped up as Miami's leading scorer. McGruder has been a major surprise, averaging 16.5 points.
Portland shooting guard C.J. McCollum, who averaged 21.4 points last season and had 22 points on Thursday, gets lost in Lillard's shadow. But his matchup against Richardson will likely be another key on Saturday.
Miami's bench brigade is led by Dwyane Wade, a fading star in the last season of his stellar career; and Tyler Johnson and Bam Adebayo.
Portland's reserves include 7-foot center Zach Collins, who went 7 of 7 on Thursday, including two 3-pointers. He finished with 17 points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block. Collins will match up against Adebayo.
The Blazers also have a bench weapon in Seth Curry, Steph's brother who is a career 43.3 percent shooter on 3-pointers.
Updated October 26, 2018