PORTLAND, Ore. -- Asked before the season about Kevin Durant's chances to claim the NBA's Most Valuable Player trophy, Steve Kerr had a glib answer.
"He is kind of like Gary Johnson, a third-party guy who might come in and take a few votes from Steph (Curry), take some votes from LeBron (James)," the Golden State coach said. "Then Damian Lillard wins the election. That's my forecast."
Kerr has a reason to have a high opinion of Lillard, who will lead the Portland Trail Blazers into action against the Warriors Tuesday night at the Moda Center.
Portland Trail Blazers (2-1) vs. Golden State Warriors (2-1)
At Moda Center, Portland, Oregon
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: CSNNW, NBATV
Radio: 620 AM
When Portland beat Golden State 137-105 on Feb. 19, handing the Warriors their most one-sided defeat in four years, Lillard had a career-high 51 points on 18-for-28 shooting, including 9-for-12 on 3-pointers.
Portland's All-Star point guard averaged 36.5 points in four regular-season games against Golden State last season, then 31.8 points as the Warriors eliminated the Blazers in five games in the Western Conference semifinals. Lillard is off to a sizzling start to this season, averaging 35.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists in the first three games while shooting .549 from the field, .444 from 3-point range and .905 from the foul line.
Lillard had 37 points and seven assists and scored the game-winning shot on a runner with .3 of a second in overtime as Portland won at Denver 115-113 Saturday night. The Blazers rallied from an eight-point deficit in the final 1:15 of regulation.
"We would have lost this game last year," said Lillard, who has helped the Blazers to a 2-1 start. "This game felt like the game last year in Milwaukee, where we were in position to win and they took over the game and we couldn't figure it out (in a 90-88 loss). Tonight, we actually got over the hump. That was good. That showed growth.
"We didn't just get lucky. We made plays. We got stops. We executed. We competed. We did all the things that give us a chance to win the game. It's like, this is what good teams do. You find a way to win it."
Golden State found a way to win Sunday night at Phoenix, though it took the Warriors nearly all of 48 minutes to dispose of the Suns 106-100. Durant scored 37 points, hitting 10 of 16 shots from the field, 2 of 4 from 3-point range and 15 of 16 from the line.
"I was just taking what the defense was giving me," Durant said after his best performance in a Warrior uniform. "If you play me straight up, I like my chances. I try to get (to the line) as much as possible."
Curry scored 28 points, making 9 of 17 shots from the field, 5 of 8 on 3-pointers and 5 of 5 foul shots, and Draymond Green had nine points, 13 rebounds and nine assists for the Warriors, who are 2-1 but still not in a groove as Durant assimilates into their system.
"We are not clicking," Kerr said. "Everyone can see that. It will come, but the main thing while we are going through this process is to continue to compete and try to pick up wins."
- Last season, the Warriors were 3-1 (.750) against the Trail Blazers and averaged 124.3 points per game in those four games. This was the second-highest scoring output by one team versus any other team (minimum four games played) in the NBA last season (Warriors vs. Suns, 124.5).
- The Blazers won in Denver, 115-113, on Saturday thanks to Damian Lillard's game-winning basket with less than a second left in overtime. Last season, Portland went 2-3 in overtime games.
- The Warriors defeated the Suns 106-100 in Phoenix on Sunday despite shooting just 27.6 percent from downtown. On the year, the Warriors are shooting 26.7 percent from the three-point arc but have made up for it by averaging 20.0 points per game on fast breaks (third in NBA).
- Despite the team's struggles from distance, Steph Curry is still shooting .429 from distance (12-for-28). In his eight-year career, Curry has a 44.4 three-point percentage -- second highest of any player in NBA history with at least 300 threes made, trailing only his current head coach, Steve Kerr (45.4 percent).
- Damian Lillard is averaging 35.0 points per game this season (tied for third in the NBA) and his 23.7 field-goal attempts per game ranks fourth. He also has 16.0 points in the paint per game thus far, third most in the NBA.
- Through three games thus far, Kevin Durant is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage (56.6 percent), free-throw attempts (11.0), rebounds (10.3), steals (2.67), and blocks (1.67).