If there is one player the whole NBA world feels sorry for now, it is Damian Lillard. His Blazers have come up short once again early in the playoffs despite Lillard's extraordinary heroics and numbers throughout the whole series versus the Nuggets. After losing a double-overtime thriller in Game 5, in which he scored 55 points and broke the playoff record for threes in a game with 12, Dame and his squad were emotionally and physically drained, as they weren't able to force a Game 7, losing to the Denver Nuggets 115-126.
Lillard had another great game with 28 points and 13 assists, but it wasn't enough to hold off the dynamic duo of Nikola Jokić (36 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists) and Michael Porter Jr. (26 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists). It would mark the end of a turbulent, up-and-down season for the Blazers in which they underachieved again, opening up the question: Where do they go from here, and does Lillard have the patience to stick it out?
After nine seasons with the Blazers, Lillard is already 30 years old without anything to show for it. They managed to make the Western Conference Finals once and get swept, as the Blazers never succeeded in making that leap into contenders. However, they have possibly the best backcourt in basketball and a solid core around them. Lillard has shown he is one of the most loyal guys in the NBA, saying numerous times how he wants to stay a one-team player for his career and bring a championship in Portland, but after all the disappointments, it's hard not to think, Dame could be looking for a fresh start.
Blazers fans got worried as Lillard went to Instagram to post a picture after a loss, with a cryptic caption indicating he could be on his way out of Portland. Lillard quoted a Nipsey Hustle lyric: "How long should I stay dedicated? How long til opportunity meet preparation?"
Lillard was asked about the team's state in the postgame interview and if a shake-up will be necessary. Dame kept it simple, acknowledging the team is simply not good enough to compete right now.
"I mean, we didn't win the championship, so obviously, where we are now isn't good enough. I don't know what a shake-up looks like or what changes will be made or could be made. We came up short against a team without their starting point guard and shooting guard...Obviously, where we are now isn't good enough to win the championship if it's not good enough for us to get out of a first-round series without two or three of their best players, not on the floor.
Damian Lillard, postgame interview
When asked specifically what they need to change and improve for next season, Dame kept it simple, saying they need to improve their defense as a team and have him get even better in the summer. Many fans are speculating and hoping Lillard will be put into a better situation, as they are tired of seeing him lose so early despite his efforts. If it's in Portland or somewhere else, everybody would love to see Dame compete for a championship.
Still, knowing the character Lillard is, he will probably give it another run in Portland. But they have to be careful, as even he will have enough one day if they don't show improvement. After all, he is 30-year old and a born winner, so playoff appearances won't be enough to keep Dame in Portland.