There are two homecoming games Wednesday night around the NBA with Kevin Durant back in Brooklyn with the Suns and Damian Lillard returning to Portland with the Bucks. With all respect to Durant, his time with the Nets wasn't very memorable, but Lillard is a franchise icon in Portland who holds nearly every offensive team record and will get a roaring response from the Moda Center crowd after 11 seasons there. Lillard is set at over/under 26.5 points with Milwaukee at -11 on the SportsLine consensus.
There is nothing but love between Lillard, who absolutely will have his Trail Blazers jersey retired someday, and Portland. He never wanted to leave, but it simply was time for the Trail Blazers to rebuild and trade Lillard while his value was still high and so he could win a title. Miami was always the heavy favorite and where Lillard wanted to go originally, but the Blazers apparently weren't interested in a Heat deal built around Tyler Herro.
"The Blazers just weren't in a time where winning a championship was possible or what was able to be done at the time. While I'm my best self, I want to be able to play for that," Lillard said this week, adding he definitely may end his career back in Portland. "I see there being a time where I play for the Trail Blazers. But it won't be right now. I play for the Bucks. To accomplish what we want to accomplish, you've got to be all in on that. And I was traded and I'm all in to try to accomplish that here."
The three-team deal, which also included Phoenix, went down in October 2023. The big pieces the Blazers got were guard Jrue Holiday (who was then shipped to Boston), center Deandre Ayton (from Phoenix) and Milwaukee's 2029 unprotected first-round draft pick and unprotected swap rights in 2028 and 2030.
"I think it will be emotional because I care," Lillard said. "I loved playing in Portland. I loved living there and still live there. I'm not like a big crier. I don't think I'll be crying, and all of that. But I care."
Lillard, named an All-Star starter this year for the first time in his career (one of the benefits of getting out of the loaded Western Conference), is an all-time great shooter. The Bucks have been terrific offensively, averaging 124.0 points per game, second in the NBA. Lillard is averaging 25.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.3 rebounds per game, nearly identical to his career averages in Portland.
However, Milwaukee has taken a massive step backward defensively by swapping out Holiday (stellar on that end) for Lillard (who doesn't play much defense). The team's defensive struggles are a large part of why the Bucks fired head coach Adrian Griffin last week and replaced him with Doc Rivers, who lost his debut Monday in Denver, 113-107. That Milwaukee allowed "only" 113 points is fairly encouraging.
One of the largest comeback wins in Bucks history occurred on Nov. 26 at home vs. Portland. They trailed by as many as 26 but won 108-102. Giannis Antetokounmpo made a tie-breaking tip-in with 18.5 seconds left and had 33 points (set at O/U 30.5 tonight), 16 rebounds and six assists. Lillard scored 31 points. Milwaukee has won four straight in Portland.
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