Damian Lillard can remember only one time in his life not having a birthday party, so as he turned 30 on Wednesday his teammates made sure he got to celebrate in the NBA bubble despite being away from his family.
But Lillard had only one birthday wish: “My only ask as a birthday gift is, let’s not waste our f—ing time out here,” he said to his teammates.
“The easy thing to do would be to come here and make up the excuse that we haven’t played in months, guys haven’t played and were rusty, we weren’t comfortable, not used to playing at this time. It’s a lot of ways out the back door,” Lillard said Thursday, explaining his message. “I just wanted to make sure we understood this is a great opportunity for us to come out and make a push for the playoffs. Everybody’s basically starting from scratch.”cheap nike nfl jerseys paypal
Teammate CJ McCollum said he reached out to a team staffer when the Trail Blazers arrived at the Walt Disney World Resort about doing something for Lillard’s birthday. It was an off day, so the Blazers gathered in a private room to eat dinner and drink some wine. After Lillard delivered his brief speech, he turned and blew out the candles on his cake, which presumably was served to the team.
“Obviously, nobody wants to spend their birthday in the bubble, especially their 30th birthday,” McCollum said. “Just tried to figure out a way to make it interactive for everyone and have a good time outside of their rooms and have a good meal with some wine and things of that nature.”
Lillard, though, is always business, and with the Blazers entering the restart ninth in the West, 3½ games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff spot, he had his mind on making a push for the postseason.
“That’s the mentality he’s had coming down here from the beginning,” coach Terry Stotts said. “Even though we enjoyed the festivities, I thought it was typical Dame. Having his eye on the task at hand.”
Lillard has been consistent in media sessions saying he expects his team to be ready and come out aggressively in the eight seeding games, but he wanted to deliver a blunt, to-the-point message to teammates.nike nfl cheap jerseys
“We’ve talked about coming here being locked in and ready to play, but we haven’t addressed it in that way,” Lillard said. “Like, seriously let’s not come out here and take this for granted and see how it goes. Let’s come out and be aggressive and put our best foot forward and live with whatever the result is. But at least have the effort and mind in the right place where we could do that. That was my reason for saying that. If we come out here loose and let’s see how it goes and not really determined, you’re setting yourself up for failure.”
There’s considerable optimism within the team about its chances, with starters Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins healthy and said to be looking good in practice. The Blazers have some actual depth, rather than scrambling to fill lineup spots, and have amped up their size after being a team that struggled with rebounding and interior defense.
The Blazers have been a playoff staple in the Lillard era, but because of injuries this season, as well as underperformance in other areas, they haven’t been able to continue the momentum of last season that fueled a surprise run to the Western Conference finals. But with eight games ahead, the Blazers are aiming to win six, which they believe would put them in position to force the play-in series.