Jazz Blazers Basketball - Damian Lillard - Dec. 23, 2020

Damian Lillard sets up the offense as the Portland Trail Blazers tip off the 2020-21 NBA season against the Utah Jazz in Portland in December. Lillard will once again be an All-Star reserve, as opposed to a starter, as he was beat out for a starting spot by Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic due to a tiebreaker.

Lillard snubbed in All-Star voting

Damian Lillard has been snubbed yet again.

The Portland Trail Blazers point guard, despite all the February MVP buzz and his otherworldly early-season play, has been denied a starting spot in the 2021 NBA All-Star Game after a weighted vote of fans, media and NBA players left him off the list of Western Conference starters.

Lillard was voted a starter by media and NBA players, receiving the second-most votes among Western Conference guards on both ballots. But he finished third in the fan vote behind Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic. The result was a tie between the two dynamic playmakers and, in the end, Doncic won the tiebreaker — and starting nod — because he received more fan votes.

Doncic will join Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic as starters from the Western Conference.

Starters from the Eastern Conference include the Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, and Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal.

James and Durant, the top vote-getters in each conference, will serve as team captains and will draft their teams from among the pool of starters and reserves on March 4. The game will be held March 7 in Atlanta.

Lillard has earned five All-Star berths over the years, but never a starting a spot. And he’s perhaps never deserved it more.

Lillard has carried the Blazers through an injury-riddled season with a dominant mix of scoring, playmaking and clutch late-game shotmaking. He’s averaging 29.8 points, 7.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game, and more than one-third of the way through the season, he ranks third in the NBA in scoring, 10th in assists and second in 3-pointers made (112).

Throughout it all, he’s been remarkably clutch, cementing his status as perhaps the NBA’s most feared late-game assassin. In clutch situations — defined as those when the score of a game is within five points in the final five minutes of regulation or overtime — Lillard leads the NBA in scoring (82 points), ranks third in assists (14) and is shooting a sizzling 63.2%

And perhaps most important, his play has carried the Blazers to a surprising 18-10 record — fourth-best in the West — even though they’ve played more than half the season without starters C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic.

By comparison, Doncic’s play has been mesmerizing — he’s averaging 29.1 points, 9.4 assists and 8.6 rebounds per game — but the underwhelming Mavericks (13-15) are 10th in the West.

The starting lineups were unveiled on TNT before its Thursday night double-header and the Inside the NBA crew unanimously agreed that Lillard had been snubbed.

“I still think Damian Lillard should be a starter,” Shaquille O’Neal said. “Nobody is feared in the game like the Damian Lillard guy.”

Added Kenny Smith: “Popularity contest, Luka is going to win. But, like Shaq said, the most feared man in basketball right now is Damian Lillard. He was my preseason MVP because I thought he could do this.”

But, in the end, it did come down to a popularity contest — literally — and fans chose Doncic over Lillard.

Lillard was this close to becoming just the seventh player in franchise history to earn a starting spot in the All-Star Game. Clyde Drexler (1992-94), Bill Walton (1978), Maurice Lucas (1978), Geoff Petrie (1974) and Sidney Wicks (1973) were voted All-Star starters as Blazers, while LaMarcus Aldridge started the game in 2015 as an injury replacement for Anthony Davis.

The starters for this year’s game — scheduled for March 7 in Atlanta — were determined by the combined votes of fans, media and NBA players on a weighted scale. Fan ballots accounted for 50% of the vote, while player and media ballots each accounted for 25%.

— The Oregonian

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