The Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns have been putting some serious heat on the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th seed in the Western Conference, and Blazers’ superstar Damian Lillard can see that his team is in a great position to unseat the Grizz for that final seed.
Lillard was, at first, hesitant about playing in the NBA bubble, stating that he only wanted to do so if Portland had a chance. Now, Portland has more than a chance; they are a legit threat.
“Y’all know that I’m always optimistic and always see the best in situations like this, and it’s why I said what I said a few months ago when I said, ‘If we don’t have a chance to compete for a playoff spot, I don’t want to play,'” Lillard said, according to ESPN’s Royce Young.
“Because I knew if we did have a chance to play for a playoff spot, it would look something like it looks right now.”
The Blazers entered the bubble 3½ games behind the Grizzlies, but they have closed the gap considerably as the Grizzlies continue to struggle.
“In this situation, we’re just getting an opportunity,” Lillard said, “and taking advantage of it.”
Lillard was exceptional against the Denver Nuggets, pouring in 45 points with a career-high tying 11 three-pointers.
“I jumped our guys at halftime,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “We were guarding Damian Lillard like we didn’t know who he was. We’ve done a really good job of defending him the past couple seasons, including the playoffs, [but] our pickup points were way too low. When we closed out, we didn’t run him off the 3-point line. Our hands were down. We weren’t up in pick-and-rolls. You name it, we gave it up.”
“We knew that they had a lot of their main guys out, but in the NBA, over my career I’ve learned those are the most dangerous nights,” Lillard said. “You come out there thinking it’s going to be an easy game and that’s why you respect your opponent.
“We did what we needed to do,” Lillard continued. “Some people might say, ‘Ah, they didn’t play anybody,’ but for us, we’re not going to apologize for a win. We’re here just to get it done.”
“I don’t view us as a team that went to the Western Conference finals, because you are who you’ve shown to be during the season,” Lillard said. “We’ve been unhealthy, that’s true, but we still have a lot of good players and we haven’t played to the level that we need to. But I think now, we’re starting to trend in the direction to the kind of basketball team that we want to be.”