The Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the Footlock Three-Point Contest and the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. That was Damian Lillard’s schedule at All-Star Saturday night in New Orleans. After a week of build up to his historic night — he’s the first player to compete in five events at All-Star Weekend — Lillard responded by winning the Skills Challenge, missing out on the final of the Three-Point Shootout by one point and being eliminated by Toronto’s Terrence Ross, a Portland native, in the Dunk Contest.
“I was happy to just be invited to all of them and be able to compete in them,” said Lillard. “I wanted to win at least one and I won the first one and I thought that would be some momentum to continue and try to win all three of them, but I feel short in the three-point contest. As you all saw, in the dunk contest they kind of just out-classed us. I’m just happy that I was able to compete in all of them.”
Lillard start the night off on the right foot, winning the Taco Bell Skills Challenge for the second consecutive time. The rules where different in this year’s contest, with players competing as a team rather than individuals with the first. And as was the case with all of the Saturday events, players were separated by conferences.
Lillard was teamed up with Jazz rookie Trey Burke and the point guard duo finished the first round time of 40.6 seconds, beating out the team of Reggie Jackson and Goran Dragic by 1.7 seconds.
Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo advanced out of the Eastern bracket with a first round time of 43.3 seconds.
Carter-Williams and Oladipo went first in the final round and turned in a time of 45.3 seconds. Lillard and Burke struggled with both the shooting and passing drill in the final, but still managed to come away victorious with a time of 45.2 seconds, just a tenth of a second faster than the rookie team from the East.
“I started to hear the crowd,” said Burke. “You continue to glance up at the clock to see how much time you’ve got. I just tried to get there as quick as possible. I looked up and I thought we tied, but Dame told me that we ended up winning. It was a good experience.”
Next up, the Three-Point Contest, which also featured a new wrinkle in that players were given one full rack of “money balls” each worth two points. Lillard chose to put his money ball rack at the second station and ended up going 14 for 25 for 18 points, which was two points better than Minnesota’s Kevin Love.
“I decided to put it on the left wing because that’s the spot I’m most comfortable shooting from,” said Lillard of his money ball rack placement. “I kept telling myself I needed to make at least four out of five of them and I think I made three or four.”
Unfortunately, San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli surpassed Lillard’s score with 19 points, which he didn’t secure until his last shot. Lillard ended up with the third-best score of the first round, but only the top finisher from each conference moved on to the final.
“It came down to the last shot,” said Lillard. “The one that I missed, that could have put me in the final, but I missed it.”
Belinelli would end up defeating Washington’s Bradley Beal with 24 points in the tiebreaker round after both players finished the final with 19 points.
The caper to the night was the dunk contest, which also featured changes in format from previous years. Dunkers competed in teams, starting off with ah 90-second “freestyle” round, which allowed dunkers an unlimited amount of tries.
Lillard was teamed up with Golden State’s Harrison Barnes and Sacramento’s Ben McLemore. Lillard missed his first dunk, a between-the-legs one-handed finish, but made it on the second attempt in what was one of the better dunks of the contest. But there wasn’t much cohesion between Lillard, Barnes and McLemore didn’t come together, and the East team of Paul George, John Wall and Terrence Ross took the first round.
“I thought my dunks were good,” said Lillard. “I think we came out rusty to start. We missed a few dunks, we didn’t execute how we did in practice, we just stuck with it. I think
we kind of freestyled a little bit toward the end just because what we went over didn’t work right away. (The East), like I said, they came out ready and they put down some nice dunks.”
In the second “dunk battle” round, Lillard pulled off a 360 dunk on his second try, but was bested by Ross, who brought out adult contemporary rapper Drake to hold the ball for his between-the-legs dunk. Ross missed his first two tries before completing the dunk on the third attempt. Despite that, Ross won the votes of Dominique Wilkins and Dr. J, which gave Ross the win despite Magic Johnson voting for Lillard.
The East would eventually win the contest, with Wall being named the “Dunker of the Night.”
Lillard now has just one more event, the actual 2014 NBA All-Star Game, to complete his five-event weekend.
That’s the ultimate goal, to become an All-Star in the NBA and win championships. Being able to play in that big game is big to me, and I’m excited about it.”
According to Shams Charania of The Vertical, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will not play for Team USA at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in order to rest and continue rehabilitating the plantar fasciitis injury that dogged the 6-3 for much of the 2015-16 season. I can confirm this report.
Though Lillard was able to play through the injury after missing seven games in late December, the pain caused by the plantar fasciitis in his left foot never really went away. He received treatment on his foot throughout the season, though the most effective approach to the injury, which causes extreme pain on the bottom of the foot and heel, is rest, which is obviously hard to get when you’re the leader and best player on a team trying to make the postseason. By forgoing the month-long lead up to the Olympics and the Games themselves, Lillard should have the recuperation time he’ll need to go into Portland’s 2016 training camp completely healthy.
Charnania is also reporting that Lillard was hoping for more time to make the decision before being pressed by Team USA for a commitment one way or another. This could very well be true, though if being completely healthy and rested for the start of the 2016-17 NBA season is Lillard’s motivation for declining a Team USA invite, it’s hard to figure how another week or two would change his decision.
Lillard initially declined being a part of the pool that Team USA draws their roster from, though he ultimately relented despite not feeling particularly optimistic about his chances of being named to the Olympic team after being passed over for the FIBA World Cup team in 2014. But between players opting to rest in preparation for the upcoming season and the myriad of concerns regarding the 2016 Games, the number of candidates has dwindled to the point where Lillard would have been a lock to make the Olympic team had he chosen to participate.
But Lillard opting for rest over Rio doesn’t mean you won’t have a Trail Blazer to root for during the Olympics, as Al-Farouq Aminu and the rest of Team Nigeria (a team that also includes former Trail Blazer Ike Diogu and former Oregon Duck Chamberlain Oguchi) have qualified for the 2016 Games after winning AfroBasket 2015 in Tunisia. And CJ McCollum has also been invited to play on the USA Select Team, whose purpose is to help the USA National Team prepare for international events, though players from the Select team have been promoted to the National team, with the most recent example being Mason Plumlee making the 2014 World Cup team.
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is currently barnstorming through Asia as a part of the adidas “Take On Summer” tour. He’s meeting fans, instructing young players, working on his dance moves and generally having a good time in one of the most basketball-obsessed places in the world.
But even though it’s already Tuesday in Asia, it’s still Monday here in the United States, which means Lillard has a new track to post on his Soundcloud account under his nom de rap “DameDOLLA.” And this week, it’s a freestyle featuring V.I.P., one of Lillard’s regular collaborators, entitled “Shook Ones”…
A few select four bars from Lillard’s latest offering…
Last of a dying breed and they’re taking me for granted
I represent the ones working for it, nothing handed
The world is all backwards. How we lazy and demanding?
We ain’t working towards dreams we’re just working towards mansions
I see my people struggle when they still don’t ask for nothing
We always gonna keep it solid, I know when the times are toughest
I know when they gonna be fine and i know when to give them something
Don’t ever try to finesse me, I know when a sucker bluffing
Good stuff. “Shook Ones” is just the latest of Lillard’s growing number of tracks, which include Soldier In The Game, Full Stomach, Why?, Free Bands, The Villains and last week’s Isley. All of these tracks and more can be found on Lillard’s Soundcloud page.
In between playing a few rounds of golf and enjoying some of Oregon’s finest beverages (I’m assuming), Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts joined Chris Mannix on “The Vertical” podcast to discuss his past as a player and coach and Portland’s unexpected 2015-16 season…
Adrian Wojnarowski, NBA oracle and head of “The Vertical,” leads off the podcast, with Stotts’ segment with Mannix starting just before the 42 minute mark. Whoever put the post together was kind enough to break down the topics in case you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, and I’ve transcribed a few segments for your reading pleasure…
Stotts on CJ McCollum’s season, which culminated with the third-year guard being named the NBA’s Most Improved Player…
“I knew he was going to have a good year and I knew he would probably be in the conversation for Most Improved. Now, I wouldn’t have said how many points he was going to average or anything else, but I knew that the opportunity was going to be there and he was going to take full advantage of it because he’s extremely skilled, he can put the ball in the basket and. There were some question marks — one was his health — because he had had injuries each of the three previous seasons, we made him our backup point guard, that was something that he hadn’t done at this level. So there were certainly question marks in certain areas, but the fact that he could score and do what he can do well, I don’t think that surprised anybody within our organization.”
Stotts on Damian Lillard using slights from the media, perceived or otherwise, as motivation…
“I will say in this day and age, I think everybody knows what everybody is saying about everybody. If they don’t read it, a friend reads it or a friend retweets it or forwards the tweet. It’s really hard not to know what’s going on out there and people can try and say, ‘No, I don’t pay any attention to that’ but Damian is a very honest person and he’s true to himself. To say that he doesn’t know what is being said, it wouldn’t be truthful. I think a lot of players and a lot of people in general use that as motivation. I find it funny how people think that Damian is alone with that because you have goals and he wants to do well, he wants to prove what he can do. I think it’s more about what he’s capable of rather than what people are saying.”