Damian Lillard is a tough man to catch on the court. He’s an elusive guard, at any time one step away from getting to the bucket. He can take you off the dribble. If you give him too much room, he’ll hit the jumper.
At times, he makes the game look easy. This season, however, has been anything but simple. The Trail Blazers got off to a rough startand are nowfighting for their playoff lives. They’ve added a good frontcourt player in Jusuf Nurkic, but everybody knows this is Lillard’s team. He’s averaging 26.9 points per game, and after scoring a season-high 49 points in Miami on Sunday, Sporting Newswasable to catch up with the speedy Lillard.
Thankfully, we were able to sit down with the point guard from Oakland rather than guard him. We discussed his rough start to the season and how the team is bouncing back from adversity.
Sporting News: You guys are sitting at ninth in the West (one game behind the Nuggets in the West standings). Where do you see this team going?
Lillard:We have enough to not only make the playoffs, but maybe make some noise. I know a lot of people thought we were ahead of schedule last year. It was a bithumbling this season. We jumped the curve. We won a series and fought the Warriors tough. We kind of missed that stumbling period. Turns out we needed that growth. It's a lesson about not taking anything for granted. We have a lot of talent though and have a great coach. I believe we can give any team in the playoffs hell. I’m that confident in my squad.
SN: Did the expectations from last year add pressure?
Lillard:Pressure, nah.Fam, this is just playing ball. Pressure is the homeless man, who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Pressure is the single mom, who is trying to scuffle and pay her rent. We get paid a lot of money to play a game. Don’t get me wrong —there are challenges. But to call it pressure is almost an insult to regular people.
SN: How does the adversity affect you?
Lillard: Look at the Wizards, they were kind of on the same wave as us. Didn't even make the playoffs while we did. Now this year they're the second-best team in the East. The adversity made them better. It can make us better, too. What I come from and my background made me who I am. As comfortable as I am with the good times,I'm also comfortable in adversity. Yeah, I might feel some type of way when somebody comes for me or says my name. But when it's all said and done, it ain't gonna rock me.
I've been through worse situations. I'm not the only one going through things. If a bad time for me for is somebody talking about how bad I played, I had a pretty good day. There's someone right now who didn't eat today. I'm good. I can handle some trolls.
SN: Speaking of going through, you mentioned having some family issues. How did it impact you?
Lillard: We all as athletes have families. We all have people that we love dearly. All those people going through situations. It can be health or bad decisions they've made. And we're affected by it. People think just because we have money it doesn't hurt us. Just because I'm doing welldoesn't mean I don't still have people in the hood. When your loved ones are going in the midst, it's hard to focus. These are people that mean something to my life. Basketball will come and go, but my family, that matters more.
SN: How do you deal with the trolls?
Lillard: It comes with the territory. You kind of have to be built for this. There are certain things they can't prepare you for. It has to be for you to learn to not take stock in things people say on Twitter. I've had people say the craziest s—to me then when I say, "what,"they all get like, "oh, I just wanted you to respond."Like, what kind of BSis that? But it's what people do.
Lots of people dream about the life we live in the NBA. They want it, and if I'm man enough to accept that, then I have to be man enough to accept the negative. But, of course, my clap back and block game strong, too.
SN: How's the family now?
Lillard: All is well. It's not as a much of a concern now. The All-Star break came at a perfect time. I was a little upset about not making it.
SN: Wait, a little upset?
Lillard: I mean ...I'll say this: it ended up being a blessing in disguise. I got to spend time talking to my family, and it was beneficial. I was able to clear my head. I needed to get back in focus. Now we're rolling, and it's only going to get better from here.