Warriors coach Mark Jackson didn't need to see Damian Lillard score 37 points against the Warriors on Jan. 11 to prove the Oakland High product has a bright future in the NBA.
Jackson's opinion on Lillard had long been developed.
"I watched him in Chicago in the pre-draft workouts and he was the best player and by far the best guard -- it wasn't even close," Jackson said.
So when the Warriors brought in Lillard for a workout before the draft, Jackson didn't even bother attending.
"The reason why?" Jackson asked. "I was already sold on him."
Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers (33-39) return to Oracle Arena Saturday, fresh off a 105-95 loss at home to Utah on Friday. Portland is still mathematically in the playoff race, but with 3 1/2 games between it and both the Jazz and Lakers with ten games left, any more losses would likely spell the end.
With the playoffs a fading dream, Portland's takeaway this year will likely be the play of Lillard.
He's started all 72 games, leads the team in minutes and assists (6.5 apg) and is second averaging 19.1 ppg.
"They should give him the Rookie of the Year Award before the season even ends," said Jackson, who compared him former MVP Derrick Rose.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry can relate to the transition Lillard has made this year coming from Weber State. They both left early after being big-time scorers at small schools and didn't require much time to have an impact in the NBA.
"It's just basketball and if you're a student of the game and I know for him, probably, the opportunity to come in right away and play heavy minutes and learn on the job is a great experience," Curry said. "You take it in stride from Summer League on and every time you step on the court you make your mark."
Following Houston's 103-94 loss at Memphis on Friday, Golden State (41-32) has a chance to extend its lead over the Rockets for the No. 6 seed to two games. It had a similar opportunity on Wednesday, but couldn't capitalize with a 105-98 loss at home to the Kings.
The loss frusterated both Jackson and the players alike, but the mood remains largely positive heading in the final nine games of the season.
"We understand that we let one get away -- give the Kings credit -- but we also deserve some of the credit for not playing our best baskteall," Jackson said. "It's important for us tonight to bounce back."
With four of the next five games against teams with losing records, the Warriors have a chance to solidify their hold on the No. 6 spot. After that, it gets tougher with home games against Oklahoma City and San Antonio and road games at the Lakers and Blazers.
Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge will not play against the Warriors Saturday due to an ankle injury.