The Portland Trail Blazers come into each NBA season with a chip on their shoulder, and 2020-21 is no different.
Despite seven-consecutive playoff appearances, Portland remains one of the league’s most underrated teams. Year after year, they are snubbed by the media and use such omissions as fuel to prove such predictions wrong in the playoffs.
Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard knows what his Portland squad is up against, but he ultimately believes the value of continuity and culture will lead to an NBA championship. The five-time NBA All-Star has big aspirations and is confident the Trail Blazers have a surplus of talent to get the job done.
“I think we got a chance,” Lillard told rapper Fat Joe on a recent Instagram Live. “And I think being able to hold together like the culture of your team, I think is big in the league because it’s so many ups and downs. You go through bad stretches, you have your great stretches, but I think the demeanor of your team and like how together your team is…”
Lillard finished his thought by comparing Portland to the Miami Heat last season. He said no one expected Miami to make it to the NBA Finals, instead mentioning teams like Toronto, Milwaukee, the Lakers and Clippers as part of the “talk” around the NBA.
The Trail Blazers star praised the Heat for their unparalleled success both on and off the court.
“They’re a team that come in, in shape, they play together, they’re unselfish, they defend, you know what I’m saying, they do their job, they hold each other accountable," Lillard said.
Like Miami, Lillard believes the Trail Blazers camaraderie is one of the secrets to their success.
“I think our team, we’ve got that type of energy,” Lillard said. “We together, no matter what. Whether we get our ass blew out or if we blow somebody out or if somebody come off the bench and have 40, and I have a low scoring game, CJ have a low scoring game. Our team is like we’re the same. We come to practice the same. We’re going to talk in the locker room the same. That’s something that’s on our side, I think...
The Trail Blazers relish in the opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong. ESPN recently omitted Portland from its list of teams in the 2021 NBA Playoffs after the team clawed back inside the NBA Bubble to make the playoffs in the Orlando Bubble. The Blazers fell 4-1 to the Lakers in the first round, but only after losing multiple starters due to various injuries. The fact that they even made the playoffs last season is telling of their resilience.
The 2020-21 Trail Blazers are healthy and with even more weapons. It’s arguably the most stacked roster Portland has had in the Damian Lillard era. Jusuf Nurkic is back and has lost weight. Rodney Hood returned to the hardwood for his first time last Sunday since Dec. 6, 2019 when he suffered a torn Achilles. Zach Collins is on the mend and on schedule for a January return. Carmelo Anthony re-signed and is bringing his veteran presence back to a team that wants to contend now.
Then there’s the newcomers. Portland got a freak athlete in Derrick Jones Jr. and an elite defender in Robert Covington. Enes Kanter brings rebounding, and plenty of playoff experience. Harry Giles has shown explosiveness and is betting on himself this time around.
Mix in Gary Trent Jr. who only got better in the Bubble and Anfernee Simons, who is poised for larger role in his third year as a pro.
As they say, time heals all wounds. Lillard knows the Trail Blazers have all the potential to make a championship run in 2021, if they take advantage of it.
“If it all falls into place, and we do what we supposed to do, we can do it. I really feel like we can do it,” Lillard said. “We’ve got the makeup to get it done, it’s just a matter of how committed we going to be to that. What do it really mean to us?"