On Friday after the Rising Stars Challenge practice in New Orleans, Damian Lillard joined Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless on ESPN’s First Take to talk about Portland’s season and his schedule for All-Star Weekend. During the interview, Smith asks Lillard “Why should we believe you guys can beat Oklahoma City?” Lillard’s reply?
“You don’t have to believe it. You don’t have to. They beat us twice, we beat them twice this season. When it comes down to it, we believe we can beat people. That’s all that matters.”
PORTLAND — What a nice way to go into the All-Star break.
For the second time in five days, the Trail Blazers built a large third-quarter lead against the Rockets in the third quarter, then allowed them to make a comeback, only to make a final push to come away with the double-digit victory, this time to the tune of a 116-103 win in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 at the Moda Center.
The Trail Blazers are now 27-27 overall and 16-11 at the Moda Center this season. With the win, Portland is .500 for the first time since the team was 4-4 on November 9, 2015, have won eight of their last 10 games at home and 12 of their last 15 games overall, regardless of venue. Thanks to that streak, the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings while the Rockets, a team that started the game in seventh place, drop to ninth.
After ending the first quarter tied 29-29, the Trail Blazers used a 18-3 run in the second quarter to build a 12-point lead. Portland would expand that lead to 21, only to see the Rockets cut Portland’s lead to five with 9:31 to play in the fourth. But the Trail Blazers would close out the game by outscoring the Rockets 23-15 to come away with the 13-point victory.
The Trail Blazers were led by Damian Lillard, who went 9-of-22 from the field, 4-of-11 from three and 9-of-11 from the free throw line for 31 points to go along with nine assists, three rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes.
Maurice Harkless remained in the starting lineup, despite Noah Vonleh being on the active list for the first time in the last two games, and responded with his best game as a Trail Blazers with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 13 rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes. Meyers Leonard went 6-of-9 from the field for 14 points while grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Al-Farouq Aminu shot just under 50 percent to finish with 11 points and five rebounds and Ed Davis grabbed 13 rebounds in 21 minutes.
The Rockets were led by James Harden, who finished with 34 points, and Dwight Howard, who added 28 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers have more than a week off before hosting the Golden State Warriors on February 19. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.
Prior to Wednesday night’s game versus the Rockets at the Moda Center, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard discussed his decision to rejoin the pool of players eligible to be selected for the 2016 Men’s National Team, which will compete at the Olympic Games this summer in Rio De Janerio. Lillard had taken his named out of consideration for Team USA after participating in the run up to the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball, but has since decided to continue his involvement.
Can you explain the process of reaching out to Jerry Colangelo? What made you do it?
Damian Lillard: “After one of our home games I saw Sean Ford, who is pretty heavily involved in USA Basketball and we spoke. He just said that they wanted me to be a part of it still. I expressed to them what my frustration was and why I chose to remove myself from it and they respected that. I knew that down the line I still wanted to be a part of it and I think it was just the fact that we got to speak about it face-to-face. I also had a chance to speak to Jerry Colangelo. I also told him how I felt about my last time with him and why I was frustrated. He said what he had to say and I think we just came to a point where we both felt like it would be good for me to be a part of it. It was something that I actually wanted to do but I had my reasons why I chose to not be a part of it this past summer and here we are.”
How does it feel to be back on the list?
Damian Lillard: “It feels good. Obviously that’s something that not a lot of people get the opportunity to be a part of. I’m thankful that I’ll have an opportunity to in the future.”
What was Jerry Colangelo’s message to you during your conversation?
Damian Lillard: “We basically just talked about how I’ve spent time with them. It’s not like it’s just out of the blue where I’m just all of the sudden back in the pool. I’ve been there for the past two years, I was with the team up until they left for the World Championships. That was pretty much it. He didn’t say I was wrong for feeling how I felt; he just said that he would like for me to be a part of it and I said I would like to be a part of it as well. He said what he had to say, I said what I had to say, we came to the conclusion it would be good for me to be back in the pool.”
Do you feel like, moving forward, you’re going to get a legitimate opportunity to make the team from here on out?
Damian Lillard: “Yeah, I mean, I believe so. For us to be able to have that conversation lets me know that I’ll probably get a better opportunity.”
Do you know what the next step in the process is? Tryouts?
Damian Lillard: “I’m not sure. At this point, it probably comes down to them just making the decision on who it’s going to be. I don’t know if that’s based on the type of season that people have, who’s healthy, I’m not sure. Just being a part of that pool gives me a chance, so we’ll see.”
Are you looking forward to being in that environment again?
Damian Lillard: “My past experience, like I said, the first two summers that I did it, it was fun to be begin with. But like I said, when it got to the point where I wasn’t getting the opportunity and I felt that way, I was a little bit down on it. But going into it I won’t have that on my mind and on my heart. I’ll go into it with good intentions and I’ll go into it with the right things on my mind. Like I said, I’m just happy that I have an opportunity going forward.”
Does it feel good to have a resolution with the process, with those bad feelings?
Damian Lillard: “It does feel good because I’m not a negative person. I’m not going to go out of my way to remove myself from something unless I feel really strongly about it. For me to be able to talk it out with him, for us to be able to get on the same page, it does feel good to get to that point.”
When USA Basketball announced the list a few weeks ago of 30 players who would be considered for the 12-man roster for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio De Janerio, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard was not included. Though he had been in the USA Basketball pipeline for years and was one of the final cuts for the team that won gold at the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball, Lillard was not up for a chance to play for Team USA in Rio, and at the time of the announcement, it didn’t sound like he really minded the omission.
“There’s no hard feelings toward (USA Basketball), but any time I go into a situation, I want to have a real opportunity,” said Lillard on January 18. “If I’m going to invest myself in something I want to have a real opportunity at it and the last time that I did that I felt like the decision was already made before the decision was made. Whether I played good or bad I didn’t feel like it mattered.”
Since then, Lillard has evidently been convinced that he WOULD have a chance at the 12-man roster this time, as it was announced today by USA Basketball that Lillard would in fact be one of the players considered for the 2016 Olympic team, which already qualified for the 2016 Games due thanks to winning the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
“I recently received a call from Damian, and during our conversation he expressed his desire to be considered for the U.S. Olympic Team and to remain involved with the USA National Team in the future as well,” said Jerry Colangelo, managing director of the USA Men’s National Team, via press release. “Both Mike (Krzyzewski) and I feel like Damian is playing at a very high level and that he should be added to our list of Olympic finalists. Damian has been a member of the USA National Team since 2014, and he participated in National Team training camps in 2013 and 2014, so he does have equity in USA Basketball, which is always important to me.”
Now Lillard will have a chance to join his teammate Al-Farouq Aminu, who already punched his ticket to the 2016 Summer Olympics after helping Nigeria by winning AfroBasket 2015, in Rio. Lillard is still a long shot to make the team considering the fierce competition of whittling 30 All-Star caliber players down to just 12, but an outside chance is better than no chance at all.