Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was in attendance Sunday night for Portland’s 75-67 victory versus the Houston Rockets at the 2014 Las Vegas Summer League. Before the game, Lillard discussed how he’s been keeping busy since the end of the season, beginning his offseason workouts earlier, making changes to his diet, his memories of playing in summer league, the upcoming tryouts for the 2014 USA Men’s National Team and how he’s trying to tailor his game for international play and why he loves living in Portland during the summer …
It seems like it’s been a busy summer for you so far. What have you been up to?
Damian Lillard: It’s been a great summer. Started working out a month or so earlier than I did last summer. I think I got a better feel for what I need to be doing as far as the timing going into the summer camps and getting ready for the next season. I think I’ve had a great summer so far. I’ve changed my diet a little bit, working out hard, which I always do and will do. But I think the most fun thing is I’ve had a lot of opportunities to impact people. I had a few events back home where I brought people out from the city, try to bring some positivity back to the city, getting people out and enjoying themselves instead of it always having to be something. That’s what I take the most pride in.
Being at my first session of camp every day the whole time and actually working with the kids and having a presence. And the same thing so far this week. I’ve really enjoyed being able to use my platform, the impact that I can have on people, kids, adults, teenagers. Whoever it is, I’ve really enjoyed embracing the fact that I can impact people as much as I can.
You mentioned changing your diet and returning to workouts sooner than last season. How is your body feeling now and what are some of those changes you’ve made?
Damian Lillard: Physically, I feel great. When I first started back working out, my legs were getting tired quick and I felt I was breathing heavy. Now I’m to the point where I can run. I can just go. I get tired, I breath hard, but I can still play while I’m like that.
As far as my diet, I just been eating a lot more healthy food, things that, when I sit at the table, I’m not looking forward to eating. So I know that must be good for me. And I’ve felt it. When I wake up in the morning I feel better. I don’t feel as heavy, more lively and refreshed. I’m excited about that, that I can discipline myself to do that.
Are there any particular parts of your body that you’re working on strengthening?
Damian Lillard: I want to stay strong, because I’m really strong right now, but I want to be slim and strong. I don’t want to be like stocky strong. Coming into training camp last year I was more stocky, but I want to be cut up. I want to be in better shape but I still want to be strong with my body that way. It’s been different exercises and resting as much as I train. I think being smarter has been a big part of that, Just laying down and going to sleep, get in the cold tub, not staying up as late so I’m just fresh. Stuff like that. I’ve taken a lot of advice from the dietician that the team brought in and my trainer that I do my conditioning with, Anthony Eggleton, about rest and stuff like that to help my body, stretching, all those types of things.
Being back here at the Las Vegas Summer League has to bring back some memories. In a lot of ways, this is where your professional career started.
Damian Lillard: It’s crazy, because how I felt coming back after winning Rookie of the Year is completely different from how I feel coming back this season. I feel like, when I come here, it’s like ‘I played in this a long time ago!’ That’s how I feel when I come here. It feels like a long time ago but there’s guys that I got drafted side-by-side that are playing in it right now. It’s good to see all the faces, it’s good to see the fans. They come out and support this like it’s the regular season. It’s a fun environment. Everybody comes out, you see all the media people from every team, you see national media, ESPN, Inside Stuff, Game Time, TNT, whatever it is. You see ex-players and guys trying to get back in the league. It’s great company. It’s good to be able to see all those people floating around.
The USA Basketball tryout is only a few weeks away. Are you ramping up to prepare for that?
Damian Lillard: I think I’m prepared. I’ve been working out really hard. I want to be in shape because I’m not going to have the responsibility that I have for the Trail Blazers. I’ve been shooting a lot of shots, making sure my jumper is as tight as it can possibly be, because I know I’m going to have to be able to knock down shots if I want to give myself a chance to make that team. And I’ve got to be able to “D” up. Without having the same responsibility I do with the Trail Blazers, I’m going to be able to pick up full court for my eight, nine minutes or however long I’ll be on the floor and play those eight or nine minutes as hard as I can to give something to the team and be able to make shots. I’ve been preparing myself for that.
How do you feel about your chances of making the team?
Damian Lillard: I like my chances. I’ve been hearing about people dropping out and stuff like that, but as a competitor, I liked my chances before that. Just because some guys have dropped out doesn’t mean I have a spot on the team, so I’m still going to go out there and compete and try to make an impression and get to the World Championships.
You’re one of the few guys who stays in Portland during the offseason. What do you think about Portland in the summer?
Damian Lillard: Man, I love Portland, especially when the weather changes and it goes from being cloudy and rainy and then the sun comes out. Nice days. They got a lot of restaurants where you can eat outside, there’s people everywhere, the downtown area is always popping off. It’s a fun city, it really is. I enjoy it. And also, a lot of people can go home and enjoy that time there. When I go home … I’m from a different type of city. It’s not always “Let’s have fun.” It’s “Watch your back” and “Watch where you go” and “Make sure you don’t go here at this time” and it’s really like that. For somebody like me, I really appreciate a place like Portland, just being able to be out and about. The worst thing that can happen to me is there is somebody might bump me and be like “Oh, that’s Damian Lillard.” I enjoy myself in Portland.
Howdy kind listeners. Before we all take some much needed respite before the start of a brutal March schedule, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the studios at the Moda Center to record an All-Star break edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this week’s episode we marvel at the Trail Blazers being 27-27, good for seventh in the Western Conference, and how that’s going to cost Freeman some money/beer at some point, the emergence of Maurice Harkless since joining the starting lineup, Portland rising while other teams in their general range struggle, discuss how we’ll be spending our respective All-Star breaks and answer a host of questions pertaining to the upcoming trade deadline, Gerald Henderson’s tenure in Portland, Damian Lillard passing Brandon Roy and a bunch of other stuff that I’ve already since forgotten. As I noted during the show, my brain is already on vacation.
You can find the Rip City Report on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher. And consider using a small portion of the time you would usually spend watching the Blazers to give us a review on iTunes! You can be as mean as you want!
Though they were never teammates, Damian Lillard and Brandon Roy manage to talk from time to time. Their relationship started not long after Lillard was selected by the Trail Blazers with the sixth overall pick of the 2012 Draft and they’ve stayed in contact ever since over the years. During those somewhat regular chats, the current and former faces of the Trail Blazers’ franchise sometimes discuss the responsibility that comes with that title, especially at a relatively young age, and what could have been if the 6-3 guard out of Weber State and the now-retired 6-6 guard out of Washington ever had the opportunity to play alongside each other in Rip City.
And the next time they talk, they’ll have something new to discuss. With his 31-point performance in Tuesday night’s victory versus the Rockets, Lillard passed Roy for 15th in franchise history in points. Lillard now has 6,119 in less than four seasons in Portland, surpassing the the 6,107 points that Roy scored in five seasons before knee injuries ended his career far too prematurely.
“I mean, that’s an honor,” said Lillard of passing Roy. “Just to be moving up on that list period, but I mean, if Brandon Roy got to play as long as he should have played and people would have liked to have seen him play, I probably would never pass him, so it’s a great accomplishment. It’s an honor you know, but the more important thing is just continuing to be myself and continuing to win games.”
Which Lillard has done an excellent job of his season. He’s the only player to rank in the top-6 in both scoring (24.3 points per game) and assists (7.3 assist per game) this season and has led the Trail Blazers to a 27-27 record this season, vastly outperforming preseason expectations, despite being the only holdover from last season’s starting five.
Though he’s had plenty of help this season from the likes of CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis, Lillard’s performance through 54 games is the the primary reason that the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in seventh place in the Western Conference. Roy, a three-time All-Star, was a fantastic player in his own right, a player whose peak performances are still the stuff of legend in Portland, but even he never carried the load that Lillard has this season. And of course, Lillard has already helped the Trail Blazer win a playoff series in his first four season in Portland, something Roy never accomplished.
“He’s been pretty good in a short amount of time,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of Lillard. “I mean, Brandon Roy, I wasn’t here for that, but I know what an imprint he made on the city and the franchise and how important he was to the Blazers. The fact that Damian has passed him this early in his career really says something because I know how good Brandon was. I know his career was cut short but everybody here holds him in high regard.”
Assuming Lillard experiences relatively good health — the seven games he missed this season due to plantar fascitiis are the only games he’s missed in his profession career thus far — there’s no reason to think that he won’t replace Roy as the best guard to play in Portland since Clyde Drexler, if he hasn’t taken that mantel already. But Roy can take some satisfaction in knowing that at least some of the success Lillard has had as a Trail Blazer was accomplished in part due to emulating the example he set on and off the court.
“When (Roy) got to Portland, a lot of the stuff he did, it brought excitement,” said Lillard. “I think the city really embraced him, they liked who he was as a person along with what he did as a player, obviously. I think because I kind of came and did the same thing, did some of the same things he did, I think he respects that… He was well respected, people appreciated the kind of person he was and he got it done on the floor. I think I can say the same for myself.”
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, 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.
“I really like the way we’re playing right now,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Defensively, we’ve been really good the last two or three weeks. Our aggressiveness has been good, our alertness has been very good and I thought we did that for most of the night tonight. It’s good to go into the break on a win streak and playing well.”
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.
“We dug ourselves a hole to start the season, giving up some games late, but we stuck with it, we kept going, we kept working,” said Damian Lillard. “We didn’t get too high or low. We were able to close in and get to .500 going into the break. Our team has done a great job of sticking to the grind, working every day in practice and staying together. That’s gotten us to where we are now.”
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 their lead to 21, only to see the Rockets cut the deficit 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.
Portland won Tuesday’s contest despite shooting worse percentage than the Rockets from the field and the three-point line, but making eight more free throws despite having the same number of attempts and turning 20 Rockets turnovers in to 31 points more than made up for their so-so field goal percentages.
“I like the fact that we’re doing it within the context of our defense rather than gambling and extending our defense,” said Stotts of forcing turnovers. “We’re being aggressive on the ball, we’re alert on the weak side, so I think those two things combined help create those turnovers.”
The Trail Blazers were led by 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.
“I liked his defense on Harden, he finished around the basket, he got rebounds, he ran the floor well,” said Stotts of Harkless. “He did a little bit of everything in a kind of understated way.”
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. Gerald Henderson went just 3-of-10 from the field but made up for it by going 7-of-10 from the line to finish with 13 points.
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.
“We’re playing well and hopefully when we get back we pick up where we left off,” said Stotts, “but everybody could use a break.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.