Is Blazers’ Damian Lillard rookie of the year?
by Adi Joseph, USA TODAY Sports
Top story lines for Thursday’s two-game NBA slate (all times p.m. Eastern):
Is Damian Lillard this year’s top rookie?
Los Angeles Clippers at Portland Trail Blazers, 10:30, TNT: There’s no better test for a young point guard than Clippers star Chis Paul. Kyrie Irving, last season’s rookie of the year, outplayed Paul in a Cleveland Cavaliers upset earlier this week. Lillard emerged as the frontrunner to follow Irving in his first three games, averaging 21.3 points and 9.0 assists. But he came down Monday at the Dallas Mavericks, shooting 2-for-13 and finishing with 13 points and five assists. Lillard, who spent four years at small-school Weber State, is polished enough to avoid sloppiness. But Paul can pick anyone’s pocket or embarrass anyone off the dribble.
Can Joakim Noah handle go-to-guy responsibilities?
Oklahoma City Thunder at Chicago Bulls, 8, TNT: The Bulls center averages 8.9 points a game for his career, but that’s up to 16.0 (in a career-best 39.0 minutes a game) this season. Noah was not even a true go-to scorer in college, when he won consecutive titles with a balanced Florida team. But he is smarter, craftier and better off the dribble than most big men, and he shows it in his scoring approach. He’s one of the few centers in the NBA capable of creating his own shot, and with superstar point guard Derrick Rose out, the Bulls need that. The Thunder have the best defensive frontcourt in the league, with Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison providing different forms of defensive pressure.