Damian Lillard directs play for Portland Trail Blazers against the Miami Heat at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. AFP?

Damian Lillard keys Portland Trail Blazers 10th win, cools Maimi Heat
(Associated Press) - March 14, 2018 - 12:00am

PORTLAND, Oregon – As the Portland Trail Blazers keep winning, Damian Lillard should keep climbing in the MVP conversation, according to Miami coach Erik Spoelstra.

Lillard had 32 points and 10 assists, and the Trail Blazers beat the Heat, 115-99, on Monday night for their 10th straight victory.

Jusuf Nurkic added 27 points and 16 rebounds for the Blazers, who have the longest current winning streak in the NBA and a two-game lead over Oklahoma City for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.

After Lillard put the finishing touches on the win, Spoelstra said Portland’s All-Star deserves a little more recognition league-wide.

‘’I don’t know if there is any other player in this league right now that is playing at a higher level than Lillard,’’ Spoelstra said. ‘’You know the names in the MVP conversation. The way he’s playing right now and winning, he deserves to be in that conversation as well.’’

In other results, Houston clobbered San Antonio, 109-93; Milwaukee thumped Memphis, 121-103; and Oklahoma subdued Sacramento, 106-101.

Back in Portland, the Heat used an 18-2 run to start the fourth quarter to trim a 19-point deficit to three, but Lillard took charge for the Blazers, just as he has throughout the winning streak. The All-Star guard broke Portland’s drought of over five minutes with a 3-pointer midway through the period to put Portland back in front by six, and the Blazers stayed safely ahead from there.

Lillard scored 21 points after halftime. He leads the league in second-half scoring.

‘’It’s not just about him being a great player, it is the timing of his greatness, that is so unique,’’ Spoelstra added. ‘’Every time there needs to be a big time play, or if momentum started to go our way, he made that play.’’

But Lillard credited Nurkic, who was two points shy of his season high. Lillard said he’s seen the work the center is putting in behind the scenes.

‘’That’s the Nurk we need, just a beast, taking his time, scoring on the block, making plays off the block, rebounding the ball, blocking shots,’’ Lillard said. ‘’I think his presence was really felt on both ends of the floor.

‘’You could tell he’s trying to focus on being physical and finishing his shots.’’  

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