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Blazers’ Corner: Damian Lillard in Dunk Contest, Trail Blazers in Slump

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Damian Lillard Could Make History All-Star Weekend

Damian Lillard’s goal entering the season was to make the All-Star team.  He accomplished that after being selected as a reserve by the coaches last week.  But playing in the Sunday game might end up being the last of a long list of events for the second-year player.

According to Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com, Lillard has agreed to participate in the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest.  He’s already competing in the Rising Stars Challenge (formerly the Rookie/Sophomore game) and he’ll defend his Skills Challenge title as well.

Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard will be flying high All-Star Weekend. | (Associated Press)

But it doesn’t end there.  The NBA has also asked Lillard if he would compete in the Three-Point Shooting Contest.  If he accepted, he would become the first player in league history to participate in every event All Star Weekend.  This unprecedented opportunity has Lillard intrigued and he’s apparently leaning toward doing it.  The NBA will announce the participants in each event today, but it appears Lillard could be representing the city of Portland in a big way.

Of course, this raises concerns about the point guard possibly expending too much energy during a weekend that is supposed to be reserved for limelight and rest.  But Lillard is just 23 and when you can make history, why not.

If Lillard indeed participates in the dunk contest, he would become the fifth Blazer to do so and the first since Rudy Fernandez in 2009 (remember that).  The young guard might need a break from the break.

Rough Mid-Season Stretch Could be Good for Portland

Portland is in the midst of a slump.  It began in the final minutes of the team’s loss at Oklahoma City on January 21 when the squad blew a 5-point lead as Kevin Durant decided to go 1-on-5 in the win.  The jump-shot abandoned them and the offense hasn’t been the same since.

They’ve gone 4-3 since that night and they’ve failed to put together four straight quarters even resembling the number one-rated offense in the league.  But as the team attempts to stay afloat during this rough patch, perhaps this is how it should be.  They were never going to continue shooting at the pace they were at and the mark of a great team is one that can adjust accordingly when times get rough.

LaMarcus Aldridge-Getty Images
Portland is getting more baskets like this lately. | (Getty Images)

One adjustment the team has made is a greater emphasis on points in the paint.  Night after night, the Blazers would get dominated down low, but it wouldn’t matter because of the 3-point shooting and LaMarcus Aldridge’s dominance on the left block.

But the outstanding perimeter play just hasn’t been there since a blowout victory at Dallas on January 18 (the last time Portland shot above 50 percent) and when the outside shot isn’t falling, get closer to the basket.  The Blazers have outscored their opponent in the paint in three out of their last six games and the other three have been pretty even.

This slight adjustment in the offense could be just what the team needs.  “You live by the jump shot and you die by the jump shot,” is one of Charles Barkley’s favorite quotes and he’s right.  One-dimensional teams don’t last in the playoffs and if the Blazers intend to make a significant run, they need to be able to score in different ways to keep the defense honest.  That or get significantly better on defense.  Based on how the season’s gone so far, my money’s on the former.

New Orleans Pelicans Sign Luke Babbitt

Former Trail Blazers forward Luke Babbitt has found his way back in the NBA.  The New Orleans Pelicans announced on Tuesday that they have signed the former first round pick.  Terms of the contract were not released.

Babbitt joins the Pelicans after playing part of the 2013-14 season for Nizhny Novgorod (Russia).  The forward played in 18 games averaging 13.3 points and 3.7 rebounds.

While those numbers aren’t earth-shattering, New Orleans has been looking to help fill the void left by Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday, who are both dealing with long-term injuries.

Babbitt was a polarizing figure in Portland.  Despite being the 16th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft and a supposed deadly shooter, Babbitt could never consistently shoot or get minutes to improve his shooting.  In three seasons as a Blazer, Babbitt appeared in only 126 games averaging 3.8 points and 2.1 rebounds.

The organization opted not to pick up Babbitt’s option for a third year, making him an unrestricted free agent.  No one wanted him during last off season so he made his way to Europe to crack a roster.

Hopefully Babbitt can stick with the Pelicans.  He seems like a nice kid who was never really given much of a chance to succeed in Portland.  There were glimpses in Portland, but perhaps Babbitt can fully realize those talents and carve out a niche in the NBA.  There’s always room for a shooter.

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