Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard joined the July 2 edition of “Danforth, Dirt and Sprague” on 1080 AM The Fan to discuss his offseason workouts, preparing for the upcoming Team USA minicamp, his game/series-winning shot against the Rockets in the first-round of the 2014 playoffs, interacting with fans on social media, his thoughts on what free agents could help the team next season, the notion that star players should take less money in order to form “super teams” and his upcoming basketball camp running from July 12-15 (you can sign up your 6 to 16 year-old for that camp here).
What have you worked on this offseason the most?
Damian Lillard: I think the biggest thing I focused on early this summer was my conditioning, trying to get into better shape going into this (Team) USA camp, working on a lot of shooting. I know that, going into that USA camp, I’m going to have to be able to be an outside threat and shoot the ball in the Euro game. The same stuff: finishing, floaters, pullup jumpers, passing, pick and roll stuff but a lot of shooting.
It was evident that the Spurs were the better team in the second-round matchup. Was that the series that made you decide you needed to work on your conditioning?
Damian Lillard: It was tough. I think, when we played them, our competitive nature was telling us “We’re not playing well enough” or “We’ve got to play harder” and stuff like that, but the better team won. I think the Spurs, from Game 7 against Dallas, they played great. All the way throughout our series they played great and for the rest of the playoffs. They deserved to win the championship, they played like a championship team. I just think they overwhelmed us with how well they executed, how hard they played consistently and how they move the ball. It was tough.
Your shot against Houston to close out the series energized the city. Have you recreated that shot since and how many times have you watched it?
Damian Lillard: When the season ended I had a chance to watch it a bunch of times. During the season you don’t realize a lot of things that happen. You just kind of say “Alright, that was a good game” or this happened on that day and then you just move on from it. So after the season you get a chance to look back and see what our team was able to accomplished, see what guys were able to accomplish individually. When I look at that shot I’m looking at people’s reacts to it, I’m looking at the fans reaction. The fact that that shot pushed us over the hump to get to the next round, which was something we hadn’t done in 14 years, it was a great feeling. Every time that I saw it when the season ended I was like “Wow, that really happened.”
Did you see the Vine video of your shot taken from courtside? I don’t think people realized how quick you got that shot off.
Damian Lillard: Yeah, that was actually the first video that I saw when I watched it. Pretty neat situation.
How many grown men came up to you after that and told you you made them cry? I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city so excited. What was the reaction like for you?
Damian Lillard: It was crazy. Me and a couple teammates, basically all of my teammates actually, we hung out together after that just to kind of share that moment, not take that moment for granted. Just around the city, everybody was, not only about the shot, everybody was just complimenting us on how well we had played over the course of the season up to that point, how much they appreciated us. It was like, the city was so lively. I remember driving from the arena and people running around the streets with Trail Blazers shirts and jerseys on and just making a lot of noise, honking their horns. It was a great night for Rip City.
I think you’re one of the best players in the league at marketing because it feels authentic. How did you come up with your strategy to market yourself?
Damian Lillard: Well, to be honest, it wasn’t really a strategy. I think it’s easy to market someone that people can relate to. I think there’s a lot of underdogs in the world and a lot of people who come from poverty and there’s a lot of people who enjoy having fun. People really appreciate someone who can be themselves and bring all those things to the light. I think a lot of people can relate to where I come from and the type of person I am and they can also appreciate it. For me it wasn’t really a strategy, it was just me putting my interests out there to let people see I was more than just a basketball player and that I’m not just some professional athlete that people look up to. I’m somebody that can be in touch with fans. I can be in touch with people and that’s a big thing to me because I like to be able to talk to people and them talk to me as if I’m a regular person, not awkward and like, I’m not a human. That’s just my approach to everything, especially social media. I like to be in touch with my fans, stuff like that. I think that’s why it comes off so authentic because I’m just being myself.
Do fans every take advantage of that?
Damian Lillard: It happens all the time. I tweet back and forth with my fans then it’s always people that, if I misspell a word but I’m spelling it the way I say it. I correct people all the time about grammar so I’m aware it’s not spelled correctly or something like that. People will go at me that way or they’ll talk about me, something that I did in the game, they’ll just try some way to criticize me knowing that I’ll respond. And I don’t mind it. I’ll say something back to them, they’ll say something back to me and then it’ll just be what it is. Just like if somebody said something to me when I’m walking down the street and I felt like they was coming at me with something, I would probably respond. When they tweet something to me or say something to me on Instagram, I’ll respond. I think there’s two ways you can do it. When people say something positive to you, you say thank you and I appreciate it. And when somebody says something negative, you don’t have to say something negative back, but I like to, I guess, entertain if somebody got something to say to me just to see how far they’re willing to go for somebody to actually say something back. You know what I mean?
This is a big time for the team. You surpassed expectations, but now there’s a lot of moving pieces in free agency. How much are you keeping tabs on what the team is doing? Do you talk to Neil Olshey or Terry Stotts about moves that could help the team?
Damian Lillard: I’ve said what players I like, what I think can help our team, but that’s not my job. My job is to show up in shape, improved and ready to play and help our team. That’s all I can control. I can say my opinion and what I think, but Neil is great at what he does, Coach Stotts is great at what he does, Paul Allen is great at what he does. They brought be here to play basketball. That’s what I’m going to show up prepared to do.
A lot of talk in sports media has been about players taking less money to form “super teams.” What do you think of people who say guys should take less money in the NBA for the sake of the team?
Damian Lillard: You can say what you want about taking less money for the sake of the team. The Miami Heat just won two championships, it worked for them for two years. But nobody on Dallas three years ago took less money, that I can remember, and they won a championship. San Antonio had guys, second-round, undrafted, no matter what it was, and they won a championship. Guys just play their game and when you play as a team and you actually believe, I think anybody can get it done. I think that’s kind of overrated with bringing stars together and taking less money because I want to win. Anybody can win. Our team could have won. Any team that was in the playoffs had a chance to get it done, so I don’t really too much buy into that.
What piece are the Blazers missing? It felt like the bench, but was there anything in the starting lineup?
Damian Lillard: You know what, me, I practice with my guys everyday, so I see what they’re capable of. My expectations for them are high. I see a guy like Will Barton, I see him going hard at practice and I see his ability and what he can do. Same thing for CJ McCollum and same thing for Thomas Robinson. I feel like they can do what our team needs. I feel like that’s what it’s going to come down to. I don’t feel like, if we have the team that we have right now, that we can’t be a better team next season because I’ve seen how hard they work. My belief in them is that they can come back and they can give us that contribution that we need, that people think we need from somebody coming in, we can get that from guys that we have. I think they have that ability.
But of course, there’s guys out there that we could get to come in and spark our team. I mentioned a guy like Vince Carter, who is definately somebody who could come in and fill it it. He can come in and give you great scoring off the bench. A guy like Spencer Hawes can really shoot the ball and when (LaMarcus Aldridge) is not in the game that’s somebody that could still stretch the floor and he’s a knockdown shooter. A guy like Channing Frye, who can bring the same thing. So guys like that, there’s a lot of guys that could come in and really help our team.
You’ve got your basketball camp coming up on July 12 to 15 that’s sponsored by adidas at the Eastmoreland Courts. It’s for campers ages 6 to 16. You can sign up at TheCourtsInOregon.com. What do you hope kids come away from your camp?
Damian Lillard: The biggest thing that I want them to come away from it understanding that hard work is important, not only on the basketball court. It’s hard for a kid to get up out the bed and come to camp two, three mornings in a row. It’s hard for them to keep wanting to do it, it’s hard for them to come with all these kids and compete with all these kids. I’m going to be out there doing the stuff with them, but if I hadn’t learned what hard work really meant, then I know for a fact I wouldn’t be in the NBA because I wasn’t the most talented, I wasn’t highly touted but the one thing I always depended on was working hard. I’m going to do my best to get out there and be an example, to be out there in the morning, first one on the court, moving around and show them that you’ve got to be able to bring that work ethic and outwork somebody day in and day out, regardless of if you have a job, if you’re a football player, a basketball player, if you’re a teacher, whatever it is. I just hope that they can take hard work away from my camp. That’s the biggest thing that I pride myself on is outworking people and I want every kid that is affiliated with me and my camp to understand how important that is.
Do you have a girlfriend right now?
Damian Lillard: Yes I do. (ed note: moments later, Lillard posted a picture of himself and his girlfriend to his Instagram account)
It’s been a bit of an up and down year for both Maurice Harkless and Gerald Henderson in their first seasons as Trail Blazers since being acquired via separate trades during the 2015 offseason,
Henderson missed all of training camp, preseason and the first eight games of the regular season, a difficult hurdle for a new player to clear, even for one entering his seventh NBA season, after undergoing a minor hip surgery in the offseason. As for Harkless, he’s already appeared in more games this season with the Trail Blazers as he did during the entirety of his last season with the Orlando Magic, though he’s seen most of his statistics, from minutes to points to rebounds, diminish every month as the year has played out.
For much of the season, Harkless and Henderson have been in a competition for playing time, with head coach Terry Stotts playing both roughly equal minutes in the first half of games, with the second-half minutes going to whoever played the best in the first. That went on for the first half of the season until Stotts opted to cut his rotation from 10 players to nine, which resulted in Henderson’s minutes increasing considerably while Harkless was relegated to playing mop-up minutes or simply drawing DNPs.
But Saturday night in Houston, Stotts would need both Harkless and Henderson with starting power forward Noah Vonleh out with a sprained left ankle and Allen Crabbe, Portland’s top sixth man this season, sidelined with a bout of gastritis. They responded by combining for 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting while taking turns checking Rockets All-Star shooting guard James Harden as Portland defeated Houston 96-79 at the Toyota Center. It was arguably the first game in which both players exceeded the high hopes Trail Blazers fans had for the two athletic wings, a game in which they were menaces on the defensive end while managing to take advantage of the opportunities provided by playing alongside the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the offensive end.
“I (Harkless) he was very consistent with (Harden),” said Stotts. “He had good length, he was really in tune every possession. Harden is a great player, he’s going to get shots and you’re not going to completely stop him but I thought he worked really hard on him.”
Harden finished with 33 points, but needed 18 shots from both the field and free throw line while committing a career-high 10 turnovers, due in large part to the effort Henderson and Harkless put in.
“Gerald had a lot of bounce,” said Stotts. “He’s been on a roll, he’s feeling very comfortable out there. I thought defensively, he was good as well, he had his stint on Harden.”
As noted by his head coach, Henderson played easily his best basketball of the season since the middle of January, which has coincided with the Trail Blazers winning 10 of their last 13 games. Whether it’s due to being completely fit after missing the start of the season or knowing he’s going to second-half minutes — or a combination of both — Henderson has looked more like the player who started 292 games over six season with the Hornets.
“I feel good. I think that’s how I’m used to playing. I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor. I think that helped us win tonight.
“I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor,” said Henderson. “I think that helped us win tonight.”
While Henderson’s production has become somewhat expected over the last month of the season, seeing Harkless go from playing seven minutes combined in the five games prior to starting the last two games in place of Vonleh has been a surprise. Harkless himself said he was a bit taken aback by his promotion, though it was something he had prepared himself for, even when he was only playing fourth-quarter blowout minutes.
“I just stayed locked in the whole time,” said Harkless. “Even when I wasn’t playing at all, just stayed locked in, stayed ready, just kept working every day. I knew it would come back around.”
He only got 16 minutes in his first start of the season versus the Raptors, taking just one shot and scoring just two points in the loss. But on Saturday, Harkless almost doubled his playing time to 30 minutes and made a much larger impression in the process, going 2-of-3 from three in the first quarter and 6-of-13 from the field for the game while grabbing six rebounds and tallying two steals.
“I definitely think I just played better tonight,” said Harkless. “Last game, I hadn’t played in six games or something like that, it kind of caught me off guard when (Stotts) told me I was starting. So I think a little bit of it was rust but tonight I just went out there and just played. Making those first two shots, that was big for me as well.”
“For a guy to go games without even checking on sometimes or getting in for the last few minutes of blowouts, he could have easily been in his feelings and checked out on us, but he’s stayed locked in,” said Damian Lillard of Harkless. “At practice when they get out there and play three-on-three, he’s playing hard, he’s competitive, he’s positive. He’s been himself. I talked to him, I told him ‘You’ve just got to stick with it. You’re a huge part of what we’re gonna do. Just keep your mind right and be ready because you never know.’ We had a few guys do down and now he’s playing really well for us. I was happy with the way he played tonight.”
It’s hard to tell what will happen to Harkless’ and, to a lesser extent, Henderson’s minutes once the Trail Blazers are back to full strength. But for the first time this season, the full potential of both players was a welcomed sight.
HOUSTON — The old saying goes that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If Saturday’s result in Houston is any indication, the Trail Blazers’ collective memory is well intact.
After losing to in overtime in the last game in Houston despite owning a 15-point fourth-quarter cushion, the Trail Blazers did a much better job protecting their lead in the second meeting, with the result being Portland besting the Rockets 96-79 Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 18,308 at the Toyota Center.
“That was a really good win, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I like the way we came out. Defensively we were solid all night, for the most part… They’re a dangerous team. They can get the threes going and I liked we kept our composure when they made their run.”
Portland is now 25-27 overall and 10-16 on the road this season after playing their last seven games in the cozy confines of the Moda Center. The Trail Blazers have now won 10 of their last 13 games and are currently mere percentage points behind the Utah Jazz for eighth in the Western Conference.
The Trail Blazers looked to be the better team Saturday night from the opening tip. Portland shot 52 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the first quarter while scoring eight points on six Rockets turnovers to take a 29-23 lead into the second quarter. They’d start the quarter a 13-2 run to take their first double digit lead of the night and would go up by 21 by way of holding the Rockets to just four made field goals in the second quarter while turning six more turnovers into seven more points. Add with the Portland bench outscoring Houston’s 18-0 in the first half and it was easy to see how the road team took a 55-36 lead into the intermission.
“We played really well defensively, I thought,” said Damian Lillard. “We set the tone from the start of the game with active hands, getting our hands on the balls. We just weren’t fun to play against to start the game. That’s what we wanted to go coming out tonight and we did a great job.”
Portland would take their largest lead of the night at the 5:01 mark of the third quarter, though Houston managed to get that down to 21 before the start of the fourth. The Rockets would continue to slim the Trail Blazers’ lead, getting it down to 11 points in late in the fourth quarter. One can imagine there had to be a little nervousness on Portland’s bench after seeing two-thirds of a 32-point third quarter lead evaporate, especially with the specter of the last game in Houston still looming. But after a 10-0 Rockets run cut the lead to 91-76 with two minutes to play, Portland scored the final five points of the game to secure the 17-point lead.
“I don’t know if nervous is the right word, but certainly the way (Houston) won the last time here, I think that was probably in the back of everybody’s mind,” said Stotts. “They’re capable of doing that… I liked the way we kept our composure and pulled out the win.”
Six Trail Blazers finished in double figures led by Damian Lillard, who went 7-of-20 from the field and 3-of-9 from three to finish with 21 points and 10 assists for yet another double-double in 36 minutes.
CJ McCollum went 6-of-13 from the field to finish with 16 points, while Gerald Henderson went 5-of-8 from the field to 16 points as well. Al-Farouq Aminu filled up the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block. Maurice Harkless, who started his second-straight game in place of Noah Vonleh (sprained left ankle) and saw extended minutes due to Allen Crabbe missing the game with gastritis, went 6-of-13 from the field for 14 points, six rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes.
Portland’s bench would outscore Houston’s 24-12 thanks in part to the Rockets not getting any points from a reserve until early in the fourth quarter. James Harden finished with a game-high 33 points with Dwight Howard adding 17, but no other Rocket scored more than eight points in the loss.
“James (Harden) is a good player,” said Henderson, who spent a good chunk of his minutes defending the hirsute shooting guard. “He knows how to score, he knows how to draw fouls so sometimes it’s very difficult to guard him. He got his 30 but we felt like we did a good job containing some of the other guys.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers head to Memphis to finish a quick two-game trip versus the Grizzlies at FexEd Forum on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 pm.
It’s well known that Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has many interests. While practicing and playing basketball is how he spends the vast majority of his time, the 6-3 guard out of Weber State is an aspiring rapper, a pitchman for the likes of adidas, JBL and Spalding and an ambassador for Special Olympics. And now, he can add “cartoon character” to his list of roles, as he, along with Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Indiana’s Paul George voiced characters for an upcoming episode of “We Bare Bears” on Cartoon Network…
Some additional information from the folks at Cartoon Network…
… A special episode of the Cartoon Network Original Series We Bare Bears, featuring Paul George, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, premiering Thursday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. (ET/PT). The episode, “Charlie Ball,” features characters voiced by the players. The “All-Star” episodes of Teen Titans Go! and We Bare Bears will replay on Cartoon Network throughout NBA All-Star weekend.
Cartoon Network continues its NBA All-Star 2016 celebration with special segments integrated into some of its leading television shows beginning on Thursday, Feb. 11. Through its popular CN Sayin’ app, Cartoon Network will provide kids with an opportunity to send questions via video submissions to their favorite NBA players. Select questions and responses will then be featured within Cartoon Network’s on-air integrations throughout NBA All-Star.
Sports-themed episodes of Cartoon Network series will be available on VOD and TVE. Highlights from the All-Star special episodes of We Bare Bears and Teen Titans Go! will be on Cartoon Network’s YouTube Channel, the Cartoon Network app, CartoonNetwork.com, as well as VOD.
Not being named to the 2016 All-Star Game was certainly disappointing, but being immortalized in an All-Star themed cartoon seems like a decent consolation prize.