Damian Lillard says “people are sleeping” on the Portland Trail Blazers heading into the postseason.
“Let them,” Lillard adds.
The four-time NBA All-Star vows to “bounce back” from a humiliating first round playoff sweep last summer at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Lillard beat himself up over the exit, saying it took “a few months” before his head stopped spinning. “I’m not going to lie, I pouted for a while,” Lillard said. “Watched TV and they were talking crap about me left and right.”
With Portland again poised to finish in the top four in the West — helped by a successful recent Eastern Conference road trip — Lillard and the Blazers field virtually the same team … but with a different swagger and mindset.
“People are sleeping on us,” he said, then paused and added softly, “let them.”
For Lillard, the burn from last season’s playoff exit won’t truly be erased until the Blazers take the next step this spring.
“I had a lot of people I could lean on in situations like that,” he said. “I’m tight with my mom, my dad, my brother, grandmother. They were all like, ‘Hey, a lot of people saying that about you can never be in your shoes.’ A lot of people who have something to say all the time, they’re the same ones who can never be in my position. They can never know what it’s like to have all these people coming down on you in a big moment and come up short.
“Not only can I deal with doing that, I know that I’m going to bounce back. I’m going to answer the call. It was just my turn and our turn as a group to go through it, our turn to go through that devastating time and it’s about how you respond to it. We just want to get back to the playoffs and give ourselves a chance.”