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Is Damian Lillard paying for James Harden's foul baiting?

Damian Lillard blasts the refs

Damian Lillard blasts the refs

Eleven games into the season, Damian Lillard finally topped his season average from last season. The Blazers superstar dropped 27 points in a loss to the Clippers -- he was the league's third-leading scorer last year with 28.8 PPG.

Early season struggles

After yesterday's loss, Portland is 5-6, sitting as the 10th seed in the West. And while their slow start to the season isn't unusual, Lillard's below-average impact over the span is -- 19.3 PPG on career-low 36.3% from the floor and 25.5% from deep.

Although it's still early in the season, the entire league is struggling with efficiency, with an approximately 2% lower overall field goal and three-point percentage compared to last year. Guys like Devin Booker, Paul George, and CJ McCollum blamed the Wilson ball for it, but Lillard falls into a different camp, one that's led by James Harden.

Lillard's frustrations with refs and new rule changes

The Nets superstar, although seemingly adjusting to the new rules, has been the one most impacted by their implementation. But Lillard might be a close second.

An ongoing shooting slump is an obvious reason for Dame's drop-off in scoring numbers. But the other reason is free throws, or lack thereof. And after only going to the line once against the Clippers, the Blazers superstar decided to speak out.

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I feel like the way the game is being officiated is unacceptable. I don’t want to go too deep into it so they make a big deal out of it, but the explanations, the s*** that’s getting missed, I mean, come on.

Damian Lillard

Last season, Lillard averaged 7.2 free throws per game. This year, that number is down to 3.2 -- the lowest mark of his career and the same number of FTAs as Trey Lyles, RJ Barret, and the Cavs' rookie Evan Mobley. Between today and last season, other than the official game ball switch, the only variable that changed is the rules. But even Lillard said he shouldn't be so affected by it.

"I felt like coming in, the rule change wouldn’t affect me," Lillard said. "I don’t do the trick the referees, I don’t do the trick plays, and that’s just unacceptable. Then the explanations and the remarks in return when you tell them is just like [Lillard shrugs]. I don’t even have nothin’ else to say about it.”

Refs' campaign against foul-baiting

Lillard will undoubtedly be fined for his comments. But his frustration level has gotten to the point he can no longer keep quiet about it. And nor should he. Slumps come and go, and at some point, Dame is sure to bounce back from his. But how he's officiated is out of his control -- hence spreading the word about his unhappiness.

Lillard is getting to the rim at an even higher rate compared to last season. He's also never based his game around foul-baiting. So why is he being targeted by the refs? Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say they also need more time to adjust to the new set of rules themselves. Once they do, Lillard's FT numbers should go up.

Until then, the Blazers superstar remains the collateral victim of the refs' campaign against foul-baiters. The Beard deserves it, Dame D.O.L.L.A doesn't.

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