Damian Lillard has taken his career to another level in recent years, and he’s now being rewarded as a cover athlete for NBA 2K.

Lillard will be on the cover of NBA 2K21, and it’s a well-deserved honor. The Trail Blazers are currently ninth in the Western Conference, but Lillard is averaging career-highs in points (28.9), assists (7.8) and three-point percentage (39.4%).

He made one of the NBA’s best shots in 2019, sending the Thunder home with a three-point buzzer-beater from the other side of the equator. That shot and his knack for being a clutch scorer in “Dame Time” has led to a heightened profile across the NBA.

Lillard is the first Trail Blazer to appear on the cover of 2K. His journey was different from some of the recent cover athletes. Lillard wasn’t a highly-touted high school recruit like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis. He also didn’t get a chance to show the world his skills in the NCAA Tournament like Stephen Curry.

“This is a special moment for me in my NBA career,” Lillard said in a statement. “I’ve been a fan of NBA 2K for years and love how they represent all aspects of basketball culture. I’m an avid 2K player, so I’m honored to join the other NBA greats who have been on the cover. I’m grateful to all my fans and can’t wait for everyone to experience the game later this year.”

Unlike Madden, there is no curse associated with being a 2K cover athlete. Davis was last year’s pick to grace the cover, and he landed on the No. 1 team in the West. Giannis Antetokounmpo was named the 2019 cover athlete and won MVP the following season.

2K will release three cover athletes overall. The next two reveals are expected to come in the next two days. Last season, Dwyane Wade was on the cover of the Legend Edition, and this year’s cover is also expected to include a next-gen athlete.

Former Panthers coach Ron Rivera shares thoughts on Cam Newton to the Patriots

If anyone knows what Cam Newton is capable of, it’s former Panthers coach Ron Rivera. Newton is now with the Patriots and Rivera with Washington.

“Don’t bet against him,” Rivera said on the McNeil & Parkins Show on 670 The Score on Monday. “I really wouldn’t. First of all, you got to know who he is and understand what all he’s gone through.”

Rivera pointed to the pressure Newton had to deal with after being the No. 1 overall pick and a Heisman Trophy winner. He answered that pressure well in 2015, leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl, but Carolina didn’t get close to that level again.

Injuries limited Newton in his last two seasons, and he’s posted workout and motivational videos to show he’s back healthy.

Rivera coached Newton for nine seasons, so if he says not to bet against the 31-year old quarterback’s return, then it’s probably not a good idea.

Nets players continue to add doubt for the Orlando return

The Nets are already without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Wilson Chandler, and the hits keep coming.

Center DeAndre Jordan announced after his positive COVID-19 test that he will not be joining the team in Orlando.

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie also tested positive for COVID-19. His status for the return is still uncertain. Of the Nets’ active players, Dinwiddie is their leading scorer.

Brooklyn is currently seventh in the Eastern Conference and hold a six-game lead over the Washington Wizards. Odds are that the Nets will be in the postseason, but it won’t look like the team that has won 30 games so far.

Replacement players are allowed to be added to rosters, and the Nets may need them more than any team.