By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
CURRENTLY third in a very tough Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers have asserted themselves to be one of the teams to contend with come playoff time in the National Basketball Association. And for their star player Damian Lillard, it is something he is basking in but at the same time not surprised at all, seeing how they have grown together as a team.
Speaking at a global media conference last week along with other Portland stalwarts, “Dame” said he welcomes how they have evolved as a group across the board and how it is proving to be a difference-maker in their current campaign.
“I think the biggest difference between our team this season and last season is our experience together; one more year of us being on the same team, understanding each other a little bit better. Also just being a much better defensive team,” said Mr. Lillard at the conference call the transcript of which was shared to BusinessWorld.
“In the past we’ve had the ability to score points. Obviously, we’re doing a much better job offensively this season because everybody’s a part of it. We’re getting offensive production from more guys than we have in the past. But I think our defense has been a huge deal. We worked our way into being one of the top defensive teams in the league. Just our experience together. We’re a tight-knit group. Over time we’ve gotten comfortable with each other, and I think we’re starting to mesh really well,” added the All-Star guard.
Mr. Lillard, who is averaging 26.6 points, 6.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds, has also gotten much support this year, not only from fellow starters CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, but also from guys coming off the bench, the significance of which is not lost to him.
“I think we have become a much better team because of how we’re leaning on each other and counting on each other. We’re a better team that way. I think guys have more confidence because we’re making the right plays,” said the 2013 rookie of the year.
“Anytime you get the kind of production that we’re getting from everybody, not just a few guys, it will make you a better team. So they’ve been really consistent. We’ve gotten a lot from Ed [Davis], we’ve gotten a lot from Chief [Al-Farouq Aminu], Moe [Harkless], Pat [Connaughton], Zach [Collins], Evan [Turner], everybody who has come into the game has impacted the game in a positive way. Not just sometimes, it’s been all the time,” he added.
As of this writing the Blazers (44-28) were playing the Oklahoma City Thunder, the number four team at 44-30, where a victory could further solidify their spot in the playoff race.
Mr. Lillard said he feels confident of their chances moving forward, especially since they are seemingly peaking at the right time.
“I think sometimes people come out in the beginning of the season and they play great and they look great. You always hear people saying they’re playing really well early, and it’s almost kind of scary because you want them to be playing really well late, going into the playoff stretch, going into the playoffs,” he said.
“But I think for us it’s just been a factor of we’ve gotten production from so many different guys, not just in the starting lineup, but off the bench. Guys are consistent. Our team was able to count on that and trust that, so I think it’s reflecting in the way we’re playing together,” Mr. Lillard added.