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LeBron James and the Miami Heat begin a five game Western Conference road trip this week facing former college basketball stars Damian Lillard and Jimmer Fredette in the first two match-ups.
Thursday night the Heat will square off against Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers and will then visit Fredette and the Sacramento Kings on Saturday before coming to Utah to face the Jazz.
In December, Lillard averaged 18.2 points and 6.9 assists to lead all rookies and earn NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month for the second straight time. He joined Brandon Roy as the only other Blazer player to recieve the honor multiple times.
So far in 2013, the Blazers are 4-1, riding a three-game winning streak and haven't lost at home since Dec. 8.
The rookie guard from Weber State continues to be invaluable to the Blazers' success on the floor this season. John Schuhmann of NBA.com has identified Lillard as making the biggest offensive difference in the league. Portland's offensive rating drops 13.3 points whenever he isn't on the floor.
Damian Lillard is the real deal, but he isn’t the best offensive player in the league. Still, the offensive drop-off that the Portland Trail Blazers have suffered when Lillard has stepped off the floor has been greater than the drop-off that any other team has suffered when a specific player goes to the bench.
While Portland has found its floor general, the Sacramento Kings have not. Injuries to standout players Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton has left the Kings still searching for the right floor combination to garner success.
Aaron Brooks and Isiah Thomas have alternated starting roles this season, but Victor Contreras of the Sacramento Bee suggests giving Fredette a chance to start. However, his recent play hasn't qualified him for that role.
Aside from scoring 14 points against the Detroit Pistons on New Year's Day, 2013 hasn't been kind to Fredette. He has failed to score in the Kings' last two games and shot a combined 0-for-11 from the field in 32 mintues of play. The Kings are 2-3 on the season and facing missing the playoffs yet again.
However, Tom Lorenzo of SBNation.com highlights Fredette's ability to rediscover himself to improve his play.
The change in his approach, however, was less about mechanics and more about how to improve on what he referred to as his "aggressive mindset" in finding more effective ways to score the basketball.
The improvement has certainly been noticeable this year, as Fredette is shooting at near 40 percent from inside the lane after making just 25.8 percent of those attempts as a rookie, according to HoopData. He's also seeing a better improvement in his mid-jumper, making a 20 percent-plus leap from one year to the next in the 10- to 15-foot range.
Despite his recent woes, Fredette continues to keep his confidence and hopes his recent play will turn around quickly.
Fredette told Lorenzo that he needs to keep "going out there and playing as hard as I can, and doing what got me in the league, which is scoring the ball. And that's what I have to do on a nightly basis."
He'll get his opportunity to do that against the defending champions this week, two nights after Lillard has his chance.
Andrew Devey is a BYU senior studying communications. You can follow him on Twitter @adevey or watch him follow Fredette and Lillard's NBA season at bit.ly/JimmerLillard