As of the 11th of August, the TrailBlazers are sitting ninth in the West with only a half-game behind the Memphis Grizzlies. Portland is currently 4-2 in the bubble, with two of their remaining matchups being Brooklyn and Dallas. I’m calling it right now – the Blazers will win the battle for the eighth seed by beating the Suns in the play-in tournament. And the difference maker will once again be Damian Lillard.
Dame is on a mission. He didn’t get to Orlando to be an observer. Lillard got there to take control of his team’s destiny. And six games in – that’s exactly what he’s doing. That was his plan all along – to play with a purpose and stick around for longer than just eight seeding games.
“I didn’t want to come here and train and do all this stuff just and come here to play eight games and go home. Our team is fighting for it right now. My mentality was to come here and just show up, compete at the highest level, and try to have the biggest impact I can on winning. So far, we’ve put ourselves in a position to control our own destiny. I love our fight, I love that we’re here to accomplish something and everybody is committed to that.”Damian Lillard, NBA on TNT
Dame is sure doing his part as the team’s leader and their best player. He is coming off a 51-point performance in a win against the Sixers and is putting up 33 points and 9.5 assists per contest over six games played. But the story of the bubble hasn’t been Dame’s incredible performance. Instead, it’s the Dame Lillard-Paul George social media feud after the Clippers‘ win over Portland, prompted by Patrick Beverley’s antics after Damian had missed two clutch free throws.
“I missed two free-throws at the end of the game, which is not something that I typically would do. But failures is going to happen, and I’m not above it. Teams gonna be hype about it, teams gonna talk trash, but it turned into a taunt when they started tapping their wrists and waving way after the fact, and then I was asked about it, and when I was asked about it, I was like ‘shots being fired in my direction, I’ma fire back facts.’”Damian Lillard, NBA on TNT
Dame did fire back with some facts. He alluded to sending both PG and Pat home after hitting buzzer-beating threes to advance the series against their respective teams. The whole thing didn’t end there, as all there of them continued with the trash talk on social media.
The hype around the feud was real, as it seemed that little bubble rivalry was in the making. But Dame doesn’t see it that way. The Clippers are just another team in the way. In fact, they’re not currently in the way. So the TrailBlazers are keeping them out of their focus. It’s all about making the playoffs first, and Lillard is keeping that the primary goal.
“I’m not seeking them out. We want to get the eight spot, and whoever’s in front of us right there, which is gonna be the Lakers if we get the spot, that’s who we gonna go in there focus on, and we’re gonna just go from there.”Damian Lillard, NBA on TNT
If Portland is to secure the spot for the post-season, Lillard is confident they can make some noise. The out of the ordinary bubble conditions work in their favor, as benefits for higher-seeded teams have completely been eliminated from the equation. Dame sees it as the opportunity, and he’ll make sure the Blazers maximize on it.
I think anything can happen. I think we’re capable of doing it. It’s no home court; there’s no fans, the environment has a different dynamic to it. Because of those things I feel like we really have a chance, we just gotta get in, and then I think anything can happen.Damian Lillard, NBA on TNT
Two more games and Portland’s bubble knot will be untied. As I said, they’re my pick for the eighth seed in the West. When they do get there, I see them giving LeBron some trouble, pushing the Lakers to six games. I don’t see the Blazers beating LA, but then again, it’s the bubble – the landscape of surprises. Maybe Portland will be the team pulling one of their own. With Damian Lillard on the roster, nothing is off the table.