LOS ANGELES – After the final buzzer had sounded Thursday in an intense and heated preseason game, the Trail Blazers regular season had officially arrived.
And with it came their battle cry.
After CJ McCollum barked with DeAndre Jordan and after Terry Stotts shouted and gestured at Doc Rivers, and after the Blazers’ 35-point lead wilted into a 115-109 loss to the Clippers, team captain Damian Lillard came into the locker room with a message.
“I said to everybody: ‘It’s us against everybody,’’’ Lillard said.
The preseason is now over, and while there are questions about the left hamstring of Al-Farouq Aminu, the right ankle of Moe Harkless, the hip of Gerald Henderson and whether Phil Pressey or Tim Frazier will win the final point guard spot, Lillard made sure there was no question where the Blazers’ minds need to be come the Oct. 28 season opener.
“It’s our coach against their coach, our team against their team. Whoever is not on our side, then it’s us against them,’’ Lillard said. “And that’s the bottom line.’’
There was a little bit of bite Lillard's words. It was that kind of game. The way the Clippers went about their impressive comeback – physical and emotional – had whiffs of disrespect.Lillard wanted the Blazers to remember that smell. Remember that feeling. And he wanted them to feed off it.
“Coming into this season, we are going to be underdogs,’’ Lillard said. “People may disrespect us, and people may look at us that we can’t compete with them, and we have to take that to heart. We have to be offended like that and play like that. That’s the bottom line.’’
Stotts, who tried to brush off his confrontation with Rivers, said he thought Thursday’s emotional game was good for the Blazers.
“I told the team afterward: this is going to be every night for us,’’ Stotts said. “We are going to have our backs against the wall. We have shown we can play with anybody but we have to understand that nothing is going to be given. Actually, I’m glad the Clippers came back because it shows us what we have to do in a hostile environment on the road when things are kind of going against us. For 82 games it’s not going to be easy.’’
Lillard’s “Us against Everybody” mantra is rooted in the closeness of this team. Their well-documented off-season trip to San Diego is but a sliver of this team’s bond. Stotts has often remarked about the work ethic of this team, which is evident in how many players stay after practice to work on the their game, and how long they stay.
“That’s who we are,’’ Lillard said. “We are not a team with Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, Josh Smith … We have to stay after and get better. We can’t have a long practice and say ‘let’s go’ … I’ve said this before, but who are we? Who are we not to put that time in? That’s who we are.’’
And when a team knows its bond is established with a base of hard work, it makes it easier to develop a bunker mentality.
And that’s why Lillard, who scored 39 points, shrugged off the intense nature of Thursday’s exhibition finale.
“It’s go time,’’ he said.
And go time in Rip City this season means “Us against Everybody.”
“If you are not in this locker room, then they are not with us; that has to be our mindset,’’ Lillard said. “Period.’’