Damian Lillard gets final shot at 'storybook moment' in Oracle, Oakland

Damian Lillard gets final shot at 'storybook moment' in Oracle, Oakland

SAN FRANCISCO -- If you ask Damian Lillard where he's from the answer comes quick and with a sense of pride. 

"East Oakland," Lillard said with a smile Monday at his Western Conference finals media availability. "Brookfield."

So, it's fitting that the Warriors' last season in Oracle Arena -- a building Lillard grew up frequenting to watch a much-less exciting Dubs team -- the two-time defending champions will have to go through the Oakland native and the Portland Trail Blazers to make their fifth straight NBA Finals. 

Lillard and the Blazers punched their ticket to the franchise's first conference finals since 2000 on Sunday, when they outlasted the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 of their second-round NBA playoff series, 100-96. 

The four-time NBA All-Star is appreciative that he gets the opportunity to say goodbye to Oracle Arena on such a big stage. 

"I think it's a storybook moment," Lillard said. "For this being the last year playing in Oakland, me growing up here -- I had season tickets to watch the Warriors play. You know, it's a special ending. Hopefully, it will end the right way for us."

Lillard was aware of Oakland's rich basketball history growing up, and he's proud to be a part of that now.

"Growing up in Oakland, you know the history of Oakland because everybody is so proud," Lillard said, "Bill Russell, Gary Payton, Brian Shaw, Hook Mitchell, Jason Kidd, you just -- Antonio Davis -- you know everybody that comes from your area, across every sport. Ricky Henderson, Darrien Gordon, you know because Oakland is so proud. Like, 'That's my cousin on my mama's side,' you know? Like everybody is claiming them because they just so proud. You definitely aware of it, and I think now to be a part of that history is pretty cool."

Kidd has said if he were to pick a point guard from Oakland, he would pick Lillard over himself and Payton, so Lillard has undoubtedly carved out his own place in Oakland basketball lore.

[RELATED: Dame denies saying Warriors 'due,' but confident in Blazers]

Lillard will have 15 of his closest family and friends in attendance for Game 1 and 2 of the Western Conference finals at Oracle Arena.

"I mean, I never looked this far ahead," Lillard said. "I think in my career -- seven years -- that I've accomplished so much. The goal was to just make it to the NBA. I never said I want to be Rookie of the Year or an All-Star. I never looked that far into it.

"But I do remember going to a high school playoff game that was at Oracle. I was with my brother and my dad and we was walking out the arena and I told them the next time I'm going to be in this arena I'll be in the NBA. I said that to them."

Lillard's words proved prophetic and now he gets a chance to craft a perfect goodbye to a place that is a monument to Oakland basketball.

Why this ESPN analyst thinks Warriors could be 'terrifying' next year


Why this ESPN analyst thinks Warriors could be 'terrifying' next year

The Warriors will enter the 2019-20 NBA season in unfamiliar territory.

For one, they won't enter the season as title favorites for the first time since lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in 2015 after significant roster turnover headlined by Kevin Durant's departure in free agency. For another, they will begin the campaign without star guard Klay Thompson in the opening-night lineup for the first time since 2010 as he recovers from a torn ACL. 

But that isn't enough to write off Golden State as an NBA title contender, according to ESPN's Kirk Goldsberry. 

"I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I'd be all over this bet," Goldsberry wrote in a Friday column, referring to the Warriors opening the season as +1,400 championship favorites according to Caesar's Palace. "Why? Call me crazy, but if Klay Thompson returns to action by March or April, and the Warriors are in the playoffs, they're terrifying."

Placing them in his third tier of championship contenders, Goldsberry noted that the Warriors' experience could give them an edge over other title contenders. He also proposed that sign-and-trade acquisition D'Angelo Russell could "take another leap" under head coach Steve Kerr. Russell, who was an All-Star last season, doesn't have the same defensive upside as Thompson, but gives Golden State another credible scoring threat while one half of the Splash Brothers sits on the sidelines. 

[RELATED: Why Mychal Thompson has MVP expectations for Steph]

That defensive drop-off is what concerns Goldsberry the most, especially with Thompson set to miss so much of the season while Durant and Andre Iguodala no longer are playing in the Bay. The Warriors finished outside of the top 10 in defensive rating in each of the last two seasons despite the presence of all three players on the roster. As NBC Sports Bay Area's Grant Liffmann observed earlier this week, those absences leave the Warriors with a lot of question marks on the defensive end of the court. 

The best-case scenarios for the Warriors next season involve a lot of "ifs." If Russell can effectively fill in for Thompson and if Thompson can return healthy and if the Warriors figure out their defense, then Golden State could be a force in the postseason. The Warriors will have 82 games to figure it all out, but they are still a team few would want to face if and when they do. 

Why Mychal Thompson thinks Steph Curry will make 500 3-pointers this year

Why Mychal Thompson thinks Steph Curry will make 500 3-pointers this year

The Warriors' roster turnover this summer has been well-documented, but Mychal Thompson things it will bring out the best in Steph Curry next season.

Curry will have to adjust to life without Kevin Durant next season, after the star signed with the Brooklyn Nets in free agency. The two-time MVP also will miss Klay Thompson -- Mychal's son -- for much of the campaign as the Splash Brother recovers from a torn ACL. Because of that, the elder Thompson thinks Curry has the potential for a record-breaking season in 2019-20.

"Now, they're not going to be as good as they were last year -- and by the way, I predict Steph is going to have 500 3s this year without having to share the ball that much back in the backcourt with Klay," Mychal said Friday on SiriusXM NBA Radio. "So he's going to come back to his MVP form we saw two years ago."

Curry set the NBA's single-season record with 402 made 3-pointers en route to the first unanimous MVP in league history in 2015-16. He did so leading a historic Warriors team that went 73-9, and Klay finished second on Golden State that season with 276 made 3-pointers. 

Klay made 241 -- and attempted 599 -- triples last year, while Curry made 354 and attempted 810. Assuming Thompson returns after the All-Star break, there could be enough touches for Curry to shatter his own record. However, summer acquisition D'Angelo Russell made just seven fewer 3-pointers than Thompson last season. He probably will take fewer shots as the No. 2 option behind Curry to start the season, but Russell's presence probably lowers Curry's record-setting ceiling. 

[RELATED: Steph comments on learning about KD's decision on plane]

Curry unquestionably will have to carry a bigger load for as long as Klay's out next season. But when his son returns, Mychal thinks the Warriors will find themselves on the same level as other Western Conference contenders. 

"[Draymond Green] is motivated to have a great year because his contract year is coming up," the elder Thompson continued.  "So I think [Curry and Green] -- and with the addition of D'Angelo Russell and the other role players that they've signed -- I think they'll be right in the mix. Somewhere between a five [or] six seed until Klay comes back 100 percent, and then they'll be ready to make their move."