Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard dug deep during Blazers downturn, now it's paying dividends

Trail Blazers

The date was April 25 and the Portland Trail Blazers had just suffered their fifth-straight loss of the month.

In a post-game press conference following a 120-113 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard sat down in front of a web cam with the media on the other end hurling questions his way.

Lillard accepted the blame.

“The only thing I can do is look in the mirror at myself, and evaluate myself,” Lillard said. “I don’t think I’m worthy of going into what goes into it or anything like that. I’m on the floor, and I’m just not playing well enough. If we’re gonna be better, I know that our team success is parallel to me being better, and I just haven’t played good enough.”

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After recording just 22.1 points per game in April and shooting 37.1 percent from the floor and 34.5 percent from beyond the arc, Lillard was resolved with the fact that he hadn’t been good enough, and he wasn’t going to let it weigh him down.

 

He needed to be true to himself.

“You got to be careful to not be discouraged when you are doing all the right things and it’s not turning around,” Lillard said after the Blazers held off the Lakers 106-101 on Friday night. “You never know when that moment is going to come. … I trusted what I do.”

Lillard leaned on his family to hold him accountable when he had games where he underperformed. His trainer, Phil Beckner, would dissect Lillard’s film and label the tapes “NGE,” which meant not good enough.

Breaking down every shot, every turnover, and defensive mistakes led Lillard to reflect on the opportunity ahead to get better for not only his team, but himself.  

I think that’s part of it, being able to accept when something is not good enough, start to figure out ways you can turn it around.

Damian Lillard

“I’ve experienced some down moments in my career, not just this rough stretch that I’ve had and our team has had, just over my career period, high school, college games. Each time that I came out of it was just by not being discouraged, not letting it stop me from continuing that process, watching my film, getting my work in, keeping sharp in that routine.”

Since then, a metaphorical flip switched for the Trail Blazers leader. The Blazers have gone 6-1 in the last seven games and are back in the driver’s seat to control their destiny in the Western Conference standings.

Lillard’s numbers on the stat sheet have trended upwards too. Over the past seven games, Lillard is averaging 30 points per game while shooting 52 percent from the field and 48 percent from three.

But Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts believes Lillard’s best performances of the season have yet to come.

“Dame has been historically very good the second half of the season, particularly when you can kind of see the finish line and the importance of the games,” Stotts said. “I think the last six or seven games, he’s playing the way we know he can play. And he missed some games before that. He was missing some shots that he would normally make, but I think the way he’s playing is what we’ve seen from Dame for the last nine years.

 

“That’s what he does.”

As the regular season winds down and the Blazers position themselves for post-season play, perhaps Dame Time is not something merely felt in the closing minutes of a game. It's felt in the latter days of the season as well. 

And like his pursuit to be better, Lillard won't stop working until the day he can finally bring the city of Portland that second championship trophy he’s long desired. He and CJ McCollum talk about it all the time. 

“We've always wanted it,” Lillard said. “Our team hasn’t won a championship, but we’ve always wanted it. We just know how to impact winning, and we know how to make winning happen.”