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NBA scores 2016: Damian Lillard shows why he’s the league’s best clutch player

Two more buzzer beaters should vault Lillard into the MVP conversation. Plus, Avery Bradley catches fire and Hack-A-Shaq returns.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve seen no shortage of incredible individual performances to begin this NBA season. Russell Westbrook dropped a triple-double with 51 points. Anthony Davis was five points short of back-to-back 50-point performances. Kawhi Leonard silenced the Warriors on opening night.

But we need to make room for Damian Lillard. It’s easy to forget the Blazers’ point guard, but there may not be a better clutch player in the NBA today. After silencing the Jazz on opening night, Lillard ripped the Nuggets’ hearts out with not one, but TWO buzzer beaters.

First, let’s bow down to this Terry Stotts out-of-bounds play to extend the game.

In overtime, the Nuggets gave Lillard another shot. As Kenneth Faried ran to defend Lillard, the Blazers’ star’s mouth watered. What other outcome would you expect?

That shot was a cherry on top of a 37-point sundae and followed 39- and 29-point efforts against the Jazz and Clippers. With Lillard, the Blazers are never out of a game. He can pull up from deep, accelerate and finish at the cup, or snake his way into a tough mid-range pull-up or floater. In a league of great scoring guards, Lillard now has the complete package.

Better yet, he rescues Portland when it shouldn’t be rescued and covers up a team that has several flaws. The Blazers have struggled to deal with bigger teams with Al-Farouq Aminu manning the power forward position. Newcomer Evan Turner hasn’t fit in yet and it’s not clear who belongs in the frontcourt rotation. And yet, because of Lillard, they’re 2-1 when they could easily be 0-3.

Isn’t that what being an MVP candidate is about? The race is crowded, but let’s make room for Lillard. He deserves it.

Avery Bradley, offensive dynamo?

Every year, Celtics fans read the offseason tea leaves and dream of an expanded offensive role for Avery Bradley. Every year, those hopes fade into the same combination of OK three-point shooting, lots of long two-pointers and middling efficiency.

Maybe this is finally the year. Bradley poured in 31 points in an important Celtics road win over the Hornets, and while he buttressed that total with eight three-pointers, he also flashed more ambitious moves off the dribble. Improvement doesn’t always arrive immediately. Sometimes, it takes a while. The fruits of Bradley’s offseason labor may finally be bearing fruit.

If so, that’s a nice bonus given Bradley’s already-tenacious defense. With Marcus Smart still struggling with ankle pain, the Celtics could really use Bradley in an expanded offensive role to take pressure off Isaiah Thomas.

Back-to-backs have arrived

Saturday’s action offered a firm reminder that the cold, hard reality of a long NBA season will start to affect results. Six teams were completing the second night of a back-to-back set. One (Cleveland) won, and that was against another team that played on Friday.

Two cases were particularly striking. The Pacers, who fell in Brooklyn on Friday night, looked five steps slow in getting run off the floor by the Bulls. The same thing happened in San Antonio, where the Pelicans fell meekly in the second half of an impossible Warriors-Spurs set of games. The Pacers and Pelicans have issues — Indiana can’t stop anyone and New Orleans hasn’t found a second scorer to supplement Anthony Davis -- but they were already at a disadvantage thanks to the punishing NBA schedule.

Also worth noting: while the Bulls have looked good in their first two games, they’ve also benefited from playing at home against teams traveling in overnight after games on the East coast. Let’s see them play a rested team before making too much of their 2-0 start.

Enough is enough

When the NBA ruled to outlaw intentional fouls for the last two minutes of every quarter rather than just the final stage of the fourth, we said it was a pointless half-measure that didn’t go far enough. The end of the Grizzlies-Knicks game illustrates why.

Down eight with three minutes, 12 seconds left, Grizzlies coach David Fizdale instructed his team to foul Joakim Noah three times in 36 seconds. Noah made two of four free throws, then fouled out on the ensuing Grizzlies possession.

But instead of stopping the strategy, Fizdale asked Mike Conley to foul Derrick Rose, a career 81-percent free throw shooter. Rose missed the second of two shots, but Carmelo Anthony, working as a proxy for the basketball gods, grabbed the rebound and was fouled himself.

Still not deterred, Fizdale told Troy Daniels to foul Courtney Lee, a career 84-percent marksman. Lee made both and the two-minute mark mercifully passed. Memphis never got closer than nine using this strategy.

We can’t blame Fizdale for playing within the rules of the game, but his approach caused the game to drag on and was an abomination to watch. End intentional fouling to save us from stuff like that.

Play of the night

This is a designed play, so LeBron James isn’t passing completely blind. Still, who would even think to throw the pass along the ground and still on target?

Fun things you missed

We love DeMarcus Cousins for this. Also, for this. (Though some won’t agree on the second).

LeBron can still get up

Heck of a tip-in by John Henson to give the Bucks a victory

Watch this Joel Embiid swat and forget how the rest of the game went

Final scores

Hawks 104, 76ers 72 (Peachtree Hoops recap | Liberty Ballers recap)

Celtics 104, Hornets 98 (Celtics Blog recap | At the Hive recap)

Knicks 111, Grizzlies 104 (Posting and Toasting recap | Grizzly Bear Blues recap)

Cavaliers 105, Magic 99 (Fear the Sword recap | Orlando Pinstriped Post recap)

Bulls 118, Pacers 101 (Blog a Bull recap | Indy Cornrows recap)

Bucks 110, Nets 108 (Brew Hoop recap | Nets Daily recap)

Spurs 98, Pelicans 79 (Pounding the Rock recap | The Bird Writes recap)

Blazers 115, Nuggets 113, OT (Blazer’s Edge recap | Denver Stiffs recap)

Kings 106, Timberwolves 103 (Sactown Royalty recap | Canis Hooups recap)