Damian Lillard will be proven right about players breaking the bubble

Damian Lillard will be proven right about players breaking the bubble

There has been a considerable amount of apprehension as the NBA gets set to resume the 2019-20 season. One such concern is that not all of the players that enter the bubble will stay in the bubble.

Will there be players who break Orlando bubble protocol?

Well, with the handful of teams that have already touched down in Orlando, Florida to spend a minimum of five weeks at the Walt Disney World campus, the food situation is suspect. Not to mention trying to keep players from leaving the bubble may not be an easy task even if there were appetizing food options. But, more on that in a moment.

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard doesn’t have a whole lot of faith that other players won’t break the bubble rule.

My confidence ain't great. My confidence ain't great because you're telling me you're gonna have 22 teams full of players following all the rules? When we have 100 percent freedom, everybody don't follow all the rules. I don't have much confidence. But hopefully it'll be handled to a point where we're not putting everybody at risk or in a dangerous position. -- Damian Lillard

But luckily for Lillard, he's a homebody or, in this case, a hotel-body during a normal NBA season.

“I know there's going to be activities for us and all that stuff, but I mean, I'm gonna be chilling. I feel like there's still a possibility for something to spread within that bubble, just with so many people doing so many different things that we've got to follow to be safe, even though we're not exposed to the public. So for me, it's going to be: What time is practice, what time can I get in the weight room, what time can I get some shots up, what's the plan for game day. And then I'm gonna be in the room. I'm gonna have my PS3, my PS4, I'm gonna have my studio equipment, my mic, my laptop, I'm gonna have all my books. That's it, man. I'm gonna be in the room, chilling.”

A handful of the 22 teams that are part of the NBA restart have already arrived in Orlando with teams traveling to the bubble from Tuesday to Thursday this week. Once the teams arrive they will be tested for COVID-19 and will isolate for up to 48 hours, before being tested again and begin practicing as a team.

Of course, once in the bubble players are not allowed to leave the premises.

The thought of NBA players being eliminated from the outside world and only eating the meals provided was already concerning, but then once Nuggets shooting guard Troy Daniels and Nets two-way player Chris Chiozza showed off their food in the bubble all bets were off that players will have the willpower to stay in the bubble.

As one would imagine, social media took off after seeing the brown paper bag meal.

People joked that this NBA provided food would not be up to superstar LeBron James’ standards.

Players have received a reported 113-page document outlining all the protocols and rules once inside the bubble. A player who leaves campus will be quarantined for at least 10 days and will have to undergo deep-nasal testing. 

During a Zoom call Wednesday, Blazers coach Terry Stotts mentioned that it is unfortunate that his team won’t be able to bond as a group as much during their time in the bubble due to the protocol that players can't go into each other's rooms. But, Stotts did say there will be places for his team to congregate.   

Stotts also added, “I’m hopeful that everybody understands the seriousness of it… I give our players a lot of credit, not only on our team, but in the league. I think they understand what's at stake -- from a personal standpoint, a health standpoint, and a league standpoint, so I'm optimistic that that everybody's going to do what they're supposed to do.”

For now that’s all we can do, be as optimistic as Coach Stotts that the Orlando bubble will remain a bubble.  

Trail Blazers select which social justice statements they'll be wearing

Trail Blazers select which social justice statements they'll be wearing

For the past couple of weeks, the NBA and NBPA have discussed placing social justice messages on the back of jerseys rather than their last names.

According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports, Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard has chosen the statement of “How Many More?” to be worn on the back on his jersey.

The personalized statements on NBA uniforms are part of the NBA’s efforts to deliver social justice messages and not detract from the current movement while play resumes. The players had a total of 29 different messages they could choose from, such as "Black Lives Matter" or "I Can't Breathe." The statements are designed to support either a social or charitable cause.

The reported list of approved social messages includes:

Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

Lillard’s backcourt mate CJ McCollum informed the media on Monday of his uniform statement.

I chose ‘Education Reform’ because I’m big on education. I think that's really important and something that we lack especially in certain communities, black communities, people of color and communities where kids are at a disadvantage.

I think there needs to be more light on that. So that's kind of been my focus and will continue to be my focus. Obviously, there's a lot of stuff that needs fixing in this world, but historically I focus on education. -- Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum

Jusuf Nurkic has reportedly chosen to wear "Equality." Rookie Nassir Little has chosen "Black Lives Matter."

The Blazers have discussed how they plan to continue the social injustice conversations while in Orlando.  

Both Lillard and Blazers coach Terry Stotts have voiced their thoughts on the opportunities that will arise once all 22 NBA teams are in the Orlando bubble.

Obviously there will be a lot of eyes on us in Orlando. So I do agree with the fact that it’s an opportunity for us to make statements with the amount of people that’s going to be watching -- whether that’s together, before games, during games, after games, TV commercials, whatever that might be, I do see some opportunities in that.  -- Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard

Professional athletes all over the country have been participating in nationwide protests, while also using their social media platforms to be active in social justice messaging following the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis.

All 22 NBA teams will arrive in the Orlando bubble by late Thursday evening.

Trail Blazers PG Damian Lillard admits Draft night earrings were fake 

Trail Blazers PG Damian Lillard admits Draft night earrings were fake 

Draft night attire never disappoints. Prospects don wild, progressive and sometimes ill-advised suits on the NBA red carpet. 

Last year, we had Bol Bol’s six-figure spiderweb black suit and Zion Williamson channeling his inner LeBron

Zach Collins paid tribute to his hometown in the lining of his suit in 2017.

But if there’s anything we’ve learned about Draft night looks, sometimes what we see is not always what you get. 

Enter five-time NBA All-Star Damian Lillard, who was taken sixth-overall by the Trail Blazers in 2012. In that moment, he not only became Portland’s guard of the future, he looked like one, too.  

Dame sported a three-piece suit with red hanker chief flare and finished off his look with studded diamond earrings. If there’s one thing we know about Lillard today, it’s that he always keeps it real. 

But one thing about his draft night look was 100 percent fake and he doesn't mind putting himself on blast. 

Like they say, fake it 'til you make it, right? 

Luckily for Lillard, he can now skip Claire’s in the mall and grab some real diamond studs at a high-end retailer as one of the NBA’s highest-paid players.

While those ones were fake, Lillard does have the real thing now... except for he doesn't wear them. 

The Trail Blazers guard recently came in at No. 30 on Forbes’ annual list of highest-paid athletes. But, Dame remembers when it wan't always that way.

Will earring Dame make his triumpant appearance once NBA resumes play? Probably not. But, we'll always have the memories of Draft night, fake earrings or not.

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

Damian Lillard, Nassir Little sound off on WNBA ‘bubble’ disturbing accommodations

Damian Lillard, Nassir Little sound off on WNBA ‘bubble’ disturbing accommodations

We are finally just three weeks away from the NBA season resuming at the Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Florida.

Meanwhile, the WNBA will also begin the 2020 season at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, starting on July 24. 

However, the accommodations in the WNBA ‘bubble’ are certainly questionable.

On Monday, a video surfaced on social media sharing one of the laundry rooms available to WNBA players that features a mousetrap and plenty of mold and rust.

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

On Tuesday, another video showed one of the meals served to the players which… doesn’t look appetizing. 

It’s pretty sad to think about the differences in accommodations between the NBA and WNBA in general, but let’s just narrow in on the conditions at each ‘campus’ this month. 

It’s considerably less than what NBA players are being treated like. — Stephen A. Smith on First Take

Seattle Storm’s Jewell Lloyd gave fans a glimpse and threw some shade at the WNBA on her Instagram story:

It’s a problem to say the least and one that should have been figured out a loooooong time ago.

But, a somewhat light at the end of the tunnel, the IMG Executive VP of Events said he’s working currently to address and relieve all issues.

And, it is nice to see NBA players, like Dame and Nas, showing support for the WNBA.

Let’s hope the season will begin on a better foot.

Damian Lillard has it all including international superstar status

Damian Lillard has it all including international superstar status

Following Damian Lillard’s most recent accomplishment of becoming one of three cover athletes for NBA 2K21, Lillard’s superstar status was a big topic of conversation on the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast.   

The list of accolades have continued to pile up for Lillard over the years as a five-time NBA All-Star, a four-time All-NBA selection recipient, the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year, while also leading the Trail Blazers to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in nearly two decades last season.

Now that Lillard added the NBA2k cover accomplishment, Channing Frye is ready to dub Lillard the king of point guards.   

Steph Curry didn’t play this year and as I always said I think Steph and Dame are 1-and-1. More people watch the Golden State Warriors obviously, but Dame has put up crazy numbers. Dame has done amazing things in the playoffs. He’s been one of the most consistent guys when it comes to his play in the NBA as a whole. And so now, people are like, ‘Oh damn, Dame is good! Dame is really good!’ And they’re like, ‘What other guard is comparable to Dame?’ There is none.  -- Channing Frye on the latest Talkin’ Blazers podcast

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

Frye continued, “There’s all-stars, superstars, and then there’s mega stars and worldwide stars – those guys are your Lebrons, your Kawhi [Leonards], even Luka [Doncic] -- those type of guys, and now [Lillard] is getting the recognition to where he’s done being an All-Star, now he’s on that superstar level and then now he’s turning into that international superstar.”  

Monday, Lillard posted a more artistic version of his 2k-cover photo. And honestly, this should be the real cover photo.

Right?  

This season, Lillard was averaging a career-high 28.9 points and 7.8 assists per game before play was suspended. He holds career averages of 24.0 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.2 rebounds.

And now he holds international superstar status.

Listen to the full Talkin’ Blazers podcast here.

Trail Blazers projected starting 5 should scare opposing NBA teams

Trail Blazers projected starting 5 should scare opposing NBA teams

When the Portland Trail Blazers take the court in Orlando, Florida at the end of this month, Rip City along with the rest of the NBA will likely see a new starting lineup. One that has never played together on the same NBA court.

Now you’re probably thinking, what a bad idea to introduce a new starting five with the playoff picture still taking shape and only eight games to make the postseason. However, the Blazers will finally be near full strength once play resumes at the end of the month. Head coach Terry Stotts will have more moving parts and talent to work with.

In a Zoom presser last Friday, Damian Lillard met with local members of the media and discussed his projected starting lineup when play resumes:

Damian Lillard

CJ McCollum

Carmelo Anthony

Zach Collins

Jusuf Nurkic

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

I like that lineup, don’t get me wrong. For me, their biggest questions is, is Zach going to defend the three-man? Is Zach going to defend LeBron [James]? Is Zach going to defend Kawhi [Leonard] or Paul George? I don’t know if Melo can do that and play starter minutes right now. You want Melo to be the scorer, but Melo as a defender right now, that’s a little tough. — Channing Frye

It has been 469 days since Jusuf Nurkic has taken the court after suffering that gruesome leg injury vs. the Brooklyn Nets back on March 25, 2019. It’s been 253 days since Zach Collins left the court with a shoulder injury against the Mavericks on October 27, 2019. Both Blazers big men are cleared for play.

Less than one month after Collins’ injury, the Blazers signed 17-year veteran Carmelo Anthony.

It will be the first time these three will take an NBA court together along with Lillard and McCollum.

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers seeding games: Key match-ups to watch

I love that Dame went with his ride-or-die guys. — Channing Frye

‘Ride-or-die’ is the perfect way to explain Portland’s situation. After the NBA Board of Governors were deliberating four possible scenarios to resume the NBA season after it was suspended in mid-March, Lillard shared his opinion on playing or rather not playing ‘meaningless games.’ The All-Star wanted something to play for or he wasn’t playing at all. Which is perfectly valid. 

Now, the Blazers have a shot at the playoffs, despite that road being rather tough.

[RELATED]: A healthy Zach Collins says 'We know we have a shot to win a title'

Will this brand new Blazers starting five give Portland that chance to break into the playoffs and make a splash in the postseason? We will soon find out on July 31 when the Blazers tip off against the Memphis Grizzlies for their first game in Orlando, Florida.

Trail Blazers look to continue to advance discussions on social injustice in Orlando

Trail Blazers look to continue to advance discussions on social injustice in Orlando

The Trail Blazers know they have a unique opportunity when play resumes.

This week, both Blazers coach Terry Stotts and Portland’s leader Damian Lillard spoke about their plans to not allow the NBA’s resumption to take away from the current social injustice movements.

“I don’t know if we’ll necessarily do anything as a team or not,” Stotts said Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t know the circumstances down in Orlando and how things are going to go, but I think the most important thing, personally, and I’m sure the players feel the same way, is that the conversation continues. We’ve got a great platform in Orlando… There will be a lot of media attention, obviously. So, I think that my message to the players is keep the conversation going.”
[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

 

Lillard, who attended a Black Live Matter march in Portland last month, believes the NBA has a real opportunity to use its platform to make statements and continue to support the black community when play resumes.   

Obviously there will be a lot of eyes on us in Orlando. So I do agree with the fact that it’s an opportunity for us to make statements with the amount of people that’s going to be watching -- whether that’s together, before games, during games, after games, TV commercials, whatever that might be, I do see some opportunities in that.  -- Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard

Coach Stotts reiterated that it will be very important for the Trail Blazers and the NBA as a whole to continue the social injustice discussions.

I’ve spoken with all the players individually about it. I think the most important thing is that we keep the conversation going and I’ve been really proud of our guys and how they’ve supported the movement and how they’ve expressed themselves and how they approach social injustice, racial injustice.  -- Blazers coach Terry Stotts

The 22 NBA teams participating in the restart in Orlando will travel to Florida between July 7-9. Training camp will begin once all 22 teams are in the ‘quarantine-bubble.’ The first slate of games are set to tip-off on July 30.

Portland will face Memphis in its first game of the restart on July 31.

Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are back and the Trail Blazers are PUMPED

Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are back and the Trail Blazers are PUMPED

Since March 6, when it was first reported that Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic was set to make his return following nearly a year-long rehab, Blazers fans have been anticipating the moment of seeing Nurk step on the court once again.   

And instead of Nurkic lacing up his shoes to take on the Houston Rockets in front of the home crowd at Moda Center on Mar. 15, the coronavirus pandemic hit and the NBA was suspended.

But now, with the NBA returning to action in Orlando, Florida at the end of the month, Nurkic along with Zach Collins will be returning to the court.

There's plenty of excitement and anticipation from the Trail Blazers as the two 7-footers get set to return.

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

Damian Lillard wouldn’t share too many details on Portland’s newly-added secret weapons, but judging by the smile on his face during Wednesday’s Zoom call, it’s apparent he couldn’t be happier to get his two teammates back.

They look great. They make me feel way more confident going in just from seeing them -- both of them. Like I forgot, I didn’t forget, but I forgot who they were. Like it's been so long that I almost forgot… You’ve just got to see, man. I can’t share these things. -- Damian Lillard on Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins

Blazers coach Terry Stotts added “they both look great… Zach is 100 percent cleared. He looks great. He’s been working out… Zach will be able to play this season without any limitations.”

Coach Stotts doesn’t believe Nurkic or Collins will be on any type of minutes restriction when the team begins play in Orlando. 

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers return to play schedule in Orlando released

It was on March 25, 2019 when Nurk suffered a compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula late in a home game against the Brooklyn Nets.

Prior to the injury, the Trail Blazers big man averaged 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds, both of which were career-highs.

As for Collins, he had successful surgery to repair his left labrum on Nov. 5. 

He was then to be re-evaluated in approximately four months.

And now with the NBA’s long layoff, the Blazers feel confident that bringing back their two big men will be even more advantageous since they won’t be the only players needing to shake off some rust.  

Lillard said, “I think it really helps that everybody is coming back rusty, for one. Nobody’s been playing. You know, our team is really familiar with each other, and I think that just the fact that our starting four and five are coming back from injuries... They’re coming back into a situation where everybody’s in the same boat, so it’s more comfortable. I think it’ll be a little bit more seamless for them. And I think that’s good for our team. So, once we do start playing I think we’ll be able to get it going pretty quick."

Stotts says he is still playing out different starting lineups in his head, saying, “I haven’t ruled out starting Hassan [Whiteside] and Nurk together.”

Think about that starting lineup for a moment:

  1. Damian Lillard
  2. CJ McCollum
  3. Carmelo Anthony
  4. Hassan Whiteside
  5. Jusuf Nurkic

That’d be a big lineup.

Whiteside has already pushed for the twin towers idea.

Melo posts up 80% of the time, so it’s not going to be a spacing issue or anything. I think we’ll be a force out there. Even when we’re in a game, I think we can play minutes together and then we can rotate in and out.  -- Trail Blazers big man Hassan Whiteside on playing alongside Jusuf Nurkic

There’s no doubt that these two bigs have different games.

Both will alter shots at the rim, but of course, Whiteside is the better shot-blocker.

Nurkic is more of a facilitator than Whiteside on the other end allowing Lillard to play more off the ball in the pick-and-roll.

Whiteside does have four more years in the league on Nurkic. Hassan had no problem comparing his game to Nurk's back in March. 

He’s more a pitching big. He passes the ball a little more. He’s more at the free throw line area with his pitches and passes and stuff. I’m more in the paint and under the rim. I’ve been shooting threes a little bit, but I’m more of a guy who likes to get straight to the Baja. -- Hassan Whiteside explaining the difference between his game and Jusuf Nurkic’s game

Nurkic’s “pitches and passes” will be key.

And Coach Stotts agrees.

“We’ve definitely missed Nurk’s passing for sure,” Stotts said Wednesday. “Dame and CJ really had to work hard for their points, and I think with [Nurk's] passing both out of the post and on our spacing sets that’s going to make things a little bit easier… Dame and Nurk’s pick and roll was one of the best in the league for the last couple of years. So, that’s going to be an important part of our offense.”  

And at the other end of the floor, there’s no doubt these two bigs will quickly make an impact.

“One of the things we are going to be better at with the addition of Nurk and Zach is we are going to have more paint protection," Stotts added. "We are going to be a better rebounding team. And I don’t know how much it comes down to necessarily individual defense as much as it does to being a better defensive team."

Portland fans have been chomping at the bit to see a healthy Nurk and Collins.

And so have the Blazers.

“I think everybody is looking forward to what they both bring,” Stotts said. “They have both been out a long time, and both are anxious to get on the court, so they both will have a lot of energy. I think that is going to be contagious.”

As if thinking about getting Nurk back after seeing him sidelined for more than a year isn’t exciting enough, Coach Stotts offered up this salivating nugget on Nurkic:

“I think physically, it’s the best I’ve seen him look. He has good muscle tone, he doesn’t look thin, he looks strong. I don’t know what his body-fat [percentage] is, but honestly, from a physical standpoint, it’s the best I’ve seen him.”

Is the best Beast yet to come? That's intriguing. 

Also, is it July 31 yet? 

Damian Lillard is working out paranoid, but it's not what you think

Damian Lillard is working out paranoid, but it's not what you think

The four-month mark is quickly approaching. 

Yes, it's been nearly four months since the United States and the NBA world was turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, as the Trail Blazers along with 21 other NBA teams look to resume the 2019-20 season in the ‘Orlando bubble,’ there are still so many question marks, concerns, and so much preparation still to be done.

Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard is ready to help his team make the jump from the nine spot out West to that eighth and final playoff spot.

He's been happy with his teammate's commitment to staying in shape. 

“I think that just from being in the gym and being around our team that it’s pretty obvious that guys have stayed active,” Lillard said during a Wednesday zoom call. “Everybody’s in pretty good shape. I think the only change… is that it’s real now. At first, it was kind of up in the air. ‘What’s going to be the format? Are we going to be involved?’… Once we knew that it was confirmed that we was coming back -- everybody started getting prepared."

Watching the coronavirus cases spike all over the country, but particularly seeing the numbers rise in Florida, is a cause for concern for the NBA.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on a conference call earlier this week that the league is closely monitoring the situation in Florida and is working closely with health officials. Silver added that he and the league have not ruled out the possibility of the restart getting shut down or the chance of it not being completed. 

Lillard discussed the safety measures the NBA is taking and mentioned that he can’t grade Commissioner Silver and the league just yet. 

Not until they get to Orlando.

It’s a risk obviously. The fact that we’re going to be in a bubble, I think that it kind of knocks it down and limits the chance of us being exposed to everybody else outside of the bubble in Orlando. You know, which is causing the numbers to rise. So, I think it is a safer situation, but I also don’t think it’s possible for them to protect us 100 percent. I think everybody is going there understanding that…I’ve seen people staying inside their houses the entire time and then they go to the grocery store, come back home and basically do nothing and they still come in contact with it, so we’ll see when we cross that bridge, but I do not think there is a way to protect us 100 percent. -- Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

With only one back-to-back, here's how Portland’s regular season schedule shakes out:

  • Friday, July 31 vs. Memphis Grizzlies (1:00p.m. Pacific Time)
     
  • Sunday, Aug. 2 vs. Boston Celtics (12:30p.m. Pacific Time)
     
  • Tuesday, Aug. 4 vs. Houston Rockets (6:00p.m. Pacific Time)
     
  • Thursday, Aug. 6 vs. Denver Nuggets (5:00p.m. Pacific Time)
     
  • Saturday, Aug. 8 vs. LA Clippers  (10:00a.m. Pacific Time)
     
  • Sunday, Aug. 9 vs. Philadelphia 76ers (3:30p.m. Pacific Time)
     
  • Tuesday, Aug. 11 vs. Dallas Mavericks (2:00p.m. Pacific Time)
     
  • Thursday, Aug. 13 vs. Brooklyn Nets (TBD)

Will there be a balancing act of feeling out how players’ bodies will react once games begin after such a long layoff?

For Lillard and the Blazers, there’s no time for that.

“This is basically an eight-game season,” Lillard explained. “And we starting off behind, so we gotta come in there and hit the ground running… We don’t have time to ease our way in. We don’t have time to try and figure stuff out. We gotta come in assertive and aggressive and just go after it. If we fail, we fail. But we got to at least go out there with that mentality of ‘We don’t have time just kind of ease into it.’”

Lillard continued, “It’s eight games, man. Everybody’s going to be rested. We can’t feel it out.”

[RELATED]: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers prepare for "big loss" with no Trevor Ariza

The Trail Blazers team captain is solely focusing on his team and not what other teams like Memphis and New Orleans must do to snag that final playoff spot in the West.

Portland currently sits in 9th place in the Western Conference standings, 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies. Sacramento and New Orleans are also 3.5 games behind Memphis.

I feel good about our chances,” Lillard said of making the postseason. “Like I said, getting [Jusuf Nurkic], getting Zach [Collins] back, we’re a different team with those guys. Everybody’s coming back rusty… It’s a neutral site. I feel like it’s fair. I really didn’t look at the schedule of who we play and all that stuff to make me feel any way. The only thing I asked for was the opportunity to make it [to the postseason] and we’ve been given that, so you know, we’re going to show up and do what we got to do. 

Blazers coach Terry Stotts also discussed his team's slate of games, saying, “We’ve got to come to play. We’ve got Memphis right off the bat -- that’s a must-win. Obviously, we’re playing a lot of good teams on our schedule and the advantage to that is we are in ninth place now, so we’ve got to hold serve. I think we all feel like we have a good chance to get into the playoffs.”

Lillard reiterated what so many around the NBA have said over the past few weeks leading up to a resumption of play:

Teams are going to be on an even playing field.

Lillard said confidently, “I think it really helps that everybody is coming back rusty, for one. Nobody’s been playing.”

In 58 games played this season, Lillard was putting up MVP-type numbers, averaging 28.9 points, 7.8 assists, and 4.3 rebounds.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Lillard took his family to Phoenix to get away for a couple of weeks, but since then, he has trained at his home gym and in recent weeks at the Blazers' practice facility. 

Lillard’s training has changed over the past few months.

He admitted with a big smile on his face that he would “probably be tired as hell” if he played in a game right at this moment; but, he said he “could play in a game.” He just didn’t say, yes or no when asked if he was in game shape.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t ready to start training camp next week in Orlando.

Lillard said he “feels good.” He has been working out with a sense of paranoia.

But, it’s not as if this feeling of Lillard's is due to the safety measures of the virus, even though he has acknowledged there is risk while working out and playing basketball during the pandemic. 

No, Lillard has a paranoid feeling because he’s trying trying to keep his body right to prevent injuries.

It was on Feb. 12 in Memphis, when the Blazers point guard suffered a right groin strain as Portland limped into the All-Star break. Lillard returned on Mar. 4 and played in four games before the NBA was suspended.  

Now almost five months after suffering the groin injury and having more time to rehab, rest, and get his body right, Lillard sounds like a point guard who is ready to lead his team to the playoffs.

And, he is also ready to lead his conditioning with little paranoia. 

“I feel pretty good,” Lillard said Wednesday. “Usually when I’m preparing, I’m doing conditioning, I’m lifting and doing individual workouts, like I have been doing. But, I think all this time I’ve been doing it like a little bit paranoid. I don’t want to be coming back and feeling like a bunch of bruises and putting myself in a position where I can get hurt. So, it’s been like -- lifting for power, lifting for agility, lifting for injury prevention --training while I’m in a vulnerable position to where I’m strong in the position... I’ve been doing conditioning at the end of my lifts to where my body is weak and I’m running on a treadmill with the incline at 40, where it’s basically like running straight up a hill.”

Lillard added, “I usually do that training in the morning. I come on to the court at the facility after that. My time has been 10:30 the whole time and then at night time… Our strength trainer for the team [Ben Kenyon], come to the house, six o’clock every night and we do some conditioning and some jump rope, treadmill, some core. So, I’ve been doing a lot, almost paranoid like. 

“I don’t want to be the guy that when it’s time to come back I’m a step behind. Or I’m not feeling good or my body is aching from the lack of activity or stuff like that, so I’ve been on the move.”

Lillard and the Blazers will continue to be on the move when they head to Orlando next week. Teams will travel to Florida beginning July 7 with training camp to follow.

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers prepare for "big loss" with no Trevor Ariza

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers prepare for "big loss" with no Trevor Ariza

There’s no doubt that without starting small forward Trevor Ariza on the perimeter, that’s going to create some problems for the Trail Blazers as they head to Orlando for their eight regular-season games in the restart of the 2019-20 season.

We are now less than a month away from the season resuming. Wednesday, Damian Lillard and Coach Terry Stotts shared their thoughts on Ariza opting out of returning to play to instead commit to a one-month visitation window with his 12-year-old son.

“I have a great respect for the decision that he made,” Stotts said. “It wasn’t an easy one for him, but I’ve told him this -- the decision he made to be with his child, I thought was very commendable and totally respected that.”

But what about that gaping hole now at the three?

Lillard was straightforward when talking about losing Ariza.

The Trail Blazers All-Star point guard knows it won’t be easy to replace him.

It’s a big loss. I don’t think there’s any way around it. It’s not a situation where you just say, you know, ‘Somebody has to jump in and step up’ even though that’s the truth. It’s just a loss for us but I respect his opinion. If I was in his position I would have done the same thing.

I think this season we dealt with a lot of adversity. So I think we got to look at that as it’s a blow to our team, but we’re also getting [Jusuf Nurkic] and Zach [Collins] back, and that’s going to be a big help for us. Hopefully, we’re able to move forward and still get done what we want to get done. -- Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard

The Trail Blazers traded for Ariza on January 21 from the Sacramento Kings for Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver and two second-round draft picks. He was instilled as the team's starting small forward. Wenyan Gabriel and Caleb Swanigan were also involved in the deal.

In 21 games played with the Trail Blazers this season, Ariza averaged 11.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. 

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon]

With Zach Collins now “100 percent cleared to play,” according to Stotts, having a healthy Collins back from shoulder surgery is definitely one big positive that came out of delaying the season.

Coach Stotts mentioned that he is exploring a big lineup of Carmelo Anthony at small forward and Collins at the four.

Plus, we can't forget about the other options for the Blazers at the three spot:

  • Gary Trent Jr.
  • Nassir Little  
  • Mario Hezonja

“It’ll be by committee,” Stotts explained. “The obvious thing is Carmelo will play some three. Gary Trent will play some three. Nas and Mario will have to make the most of their opportunities when they’re out there.”

Stotts is still optimistic that by adding a healthy Nurk and Collins, a void will be filled at the defensive end.

Not having Trevor, obviously, it’s gonna fill a hole. He’s our best perimeter defender. We’re going to have to make due… We’re going to lose his defense and his three-point shooting, but we gain Zach and Nurk, so hopefully we’ll be better defensively even though we lose Trevor.  -- Blazers coach Terry Stotts

Lillard; however, is still uncertain how things will shake out at the small forward spot.  

“I’m not sure," Lillard said. "I mean, Nas has gotten a lot of experience this season. GT has gotten a lot of experience this season. But, I could see Melo probably being the three. I could see Melo playing the three to start games. You know, I could see us having a pretty big lineup out there.”

But with three weeks of training camp after a more than three-month layoff, the Blazers are eager to get the resumption of play underway.

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers return to play schedule in Orlando released

The Trail Blazers currently sit in 9th place in the Western Conference standings, 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies. Sacramento and New Orleans are also 3.5 games behind Memphis.

Stotts said the team will have to “hold serve” once the short slate of games tip-off.

But, it’s apparent the Trail Blazers are all-in for the return to play in Orlando.

The fact that we are approaching it like every game is a playoff game, the rotation will be a little bit shorter. -- Terry Stotts    

The goal from Stotts and Lillard is understood:

The Blazers are determined to fight for their playoff lives once they get to Orlando.

It’s basically an 8-game season and we’re starting behind. -- Damian Lillard

Lillard added he “feels good” about the Blazers chances to make the postseason.

Teams will travel to Orlando from July 7-9. Portland will tip-off its first of eight ‘regular-season’ games on July 31 against the Memphis Grizzlies.