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Damian Lillard responds to critics who think Blazers will miss playoffs

Damian Lillard, Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers star point guard Damian Lillard hears the noise. After the Blazers were swept in the 2018 playoffs by the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round, the prevailing thought was the Blazers had reached their end and it was time for the front office to blow up the roster and embark on a rebuild.

General manager Neil Olshey, however, did the exact opposite of that. Portland basically returns the same team as last year, with the club’s core of Lillard, shooting guard CJ McCollum, and center Jusuf Nurkić intact. As a result, pundits believe the Blazers could miss the playoffs this season since the Western Conference is so rugged and has gotten even tougher now that LeBron James is on the Los Angeles Lakers.

Lillard doesn’t care what the experts have to say. Many people predicted the Blazers were going to miss the playoffs last season, and Portland ended up clinching the third seed in the West. Lillard, now entering his seventh year in the league, points to the high character and toughness of the players on the roster as the two main reasons the team always seems to defy the odds, via Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s always close in the West, from the 10th spot usually to the sixth spot. It’s always a game or two that separates you. We were the three seed and three games out of ninth place. That’s not going to change.

“But when it comes down to something so small, it comes down to your mentality and your character and your desire. It’s not a mistake or a fluke that the last few years, every time it’s gotten tight and gotten rough, it’s not a mistake or a fluke that we always come out on top. We’re always one of those teams that end up in there. And that’s because of our mentality and our toughness. You have some teams, once that happens, they fade down the stretch. We’ve always been one of those teams that will rise up to it.

“Now, does that mean we’re guaranteed to make the playoffs? No. But, I mean, I think, it’s been enough years of us showing that we rise to it and make it happen where I don’t see why people would look at it and say, ‘The Trail Blazers are going to be the team that gets replaced.'”

Damian Lillard, who had a stellar regular season last year in which he scored 26.9 points per game while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from 3-point range, was shut down by Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday during the four-game sweep in the postseason. Holiday used his size and strength to make things difficult for Lillard, who averaged just 18.5 points versus the Pelicans and shot 35.2 percent overall and 30.0 percent from beyond the arc.

It’s going to be tough for Portland to make the playoffs this season. The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets will be the top two teams in all likelihood. The Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz figure to grab playoff spots as well. That leaves only two slots left. It will be fun to watch the seedings play out.