Damian Lillard celebrated his 30th birthday with some decorations, music, and an impassioned NSFW speech in front of his Portland Trail Blazers teammates, making the occasion as memorable as it can get inside the Walt Disney World bubble.
Lillard only had one request of his teammates — make this sacrifice count:
“My only ask as a birthday gift,” Lillard told the room, “is let’s not f***ing waste our time out here.”
The message was soundly understood. The Blazers benefited greatly from the league deciding to play out eight regular-season seeding games, already with a tie-break advantage over the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings as they chase the Memphis Grizzlies while 3.5 games behind.
Lillard explained why he sent this message:
“I wanted to share that message with the team because I think the easy thing to do would be to come here and, you know, make up an excuse,” Lillard told reporters, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic. “There’s a lot of ways out the back door. So I just wanted to make sure we understood this was a great opportunity for us to come out and make a push in the playoffs … so let’s not come out and take the easy way out and basically waste a month and a half of our time. Let’s make the most of it and do what our team is capable of, and that’s making a run.”
“Honestly, I probably didn’t even have to say that, I just chose to,” Lillard said. “I wanted to make it plain … I guess say it out loud. Because the way we’ve practiced, and the energy of our team, that’s been the mentality: We’re here to get something done, not just show up and, you know, ‘All right, we showed up and played.’
“We’re actually here to be productive,” Lillard said. “How our team feels, and the way it looks to me, is that we are here for business.”
Teammates like star shooting guard CJ McCollum weren’t surprised to hear this coming from their leader, who’s having a career season amid a disappointing campaign for the team thus far. However, Portland is getting another chance.
The Blazers will have a vital game right out of the bat, facing the Grizzlies in their first game of the restart on July 31. A win would put them 2.5 games behind the eighth seed and all the more near to forcing a play-in tournament at the end of the eight regular-season games.
If Portland is ninth in the West standings and within four games of the eighth spot, the Blazers would need two straight wins in a play-in scenario to snag that last playoff berth.