Going into the 4th quarter against the New York Knicks, Damian Lillard had 37 points in 29 minutes, and there was only one question; would he get 50?

The problem? The Trailblazers were ahead by more than 20 points, and it made no sense for them to risk their franchise player in a blowout against a team that's in tank mode. They need Lillard in games like the one right after, against Golden State, where he scored 28 points against the champs and helped lead his team to a 125-108 victory. He had scored 39 and 44 points in his previous two games against Golden State, and Portland is 2-1 this season against one of the greatest teams of all time.

Yet, when people are talking M.V.P, no one is talking about Lillard. Why not?

The usual suspects

Part of the reason why Lillard is not being mentioned as a front-runner for M.V.P right now is because of the legitimate candidacy from players like James Harden, who many thought was robbed of the award last year. He followed up that impressive showing with one of the ten greatest statistical seasons in history, for the 2nd season in a row.

Other players such as Antony Davis, Lebron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant also deserve mention in the M.V.P conversation, but their combination of statistical profiles or team success doesn't come close to Harden's. With the exception of Curry and Durant who cancel each other out to some extent.

No. You can't make an argument for Lillard's candidacy based on statistics because Harden's numbers are even more insane and the Rockets are so much better than Portland right now. But if you're making an argument based on the definition of Most Valuable Player and by valuable you mean most valuable to his team, then you can make a real case for Dame Dolla.

Lillard's impact

It's not a secret that Lillard is a threat to score from the moment he crosses the half court line. Teams try to pressure Portland at the point of attack every time Lillard is initiating the offense. Dame uses this to his advantage by blowing by his man and either taking it to the basket, stepping back for a 3 point shot, or finding someone open.

When Lillard is rolling, he can make shots from almost 30 feet out. Only Stephen Curry brings this element to an offense, and Lillard doesn't have Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson as finishing and playmaking threats to draw defenses away. Lillard has C.J Mccollum, but the consistent pressure he faces from defenses should not be understated.

C.J McCollum in context

McCollum, as good as he is, would probably be Golden State's 5th best player (but he's really close to Klay and Draymond). The situation is a little better with Houston where he would be the 3rd best player behind Harden and Chris Paul, as a better version of their own high scoring combo guard Eric Gordon. Still though, as good as McCollum is, he's just not elite enough to be more than just a part of the puzzle.

Sure his shooting, spacing, and passing skills go a long way, but he needs to get even better at those aspects of his game or become a better defensive player to give Lillard the kind of help he needs for Portland to compete against the better teams in the league.

Lillard Time

If Lillard is going to be taken seriously in the M.V.P race, it will be because very few players own the 4th quarter like he does. "Lillard time" as it is known throughout the league, is one of the greatest shows in basketball. Very few other players in the league are as fun to watch as Lillard when he smells blood in the water and catches fire. Lillard is near the top of the league with points per game in the 4th quarter and has a 60% TS through Portland's recent nine-game winning streak.

During which Lillard is averaging 32.5 ppg.

Many will say that Lebron, Davis, and Giannis have had to carry as much of a load as Lillard for their own respective teams, and this might be true. The Cavs, Pelicans, and Bucks would be absolute garbage without their franchise cornerstones, but this is the case with Portland as well. Lillard might not be the M.V.P, but he's playing like one.