At 31-35, the Trail Blazers currently hold the 13th seed in the Western Conference, but star guard Damian Lillard remains bullish about the team’s chances of securing a playoff or play-in berth. Speaking to Chris Mannix of SI.com, Lillard pointed out that nine Western teams – including eight ahead of Portland the standings – have between 33 and 35 losses.
“So it looks like, ‘Oh, you know, trying to get a play-in spot,'” Lillard said. “But everybody’s playing each other and everybody’s in the same thing. We could end up fifth. In a perfect world, it’s possible. Right now, we just have to keep fighting and try to be one of those teams that comes out on the other side.”
While Lillard hasn’t given up hope on making some noise this spring, he recognizes that the coming offseason will be an important one for a Portland club that badly wants to take another step toward legitimate title contention.
If they miss the playoffs and the Knicks make it, the Blazers will control two first-round picks, including one in the lottery. Based on his comments to Mannix, it sounds like Lillard would like the front office to explore dangling those draft assets in a package for an impact player.
“That means we go into the offseason and we don’t come out the way we have in the past,” Lillard said of what he’d like to see this summer. “Where it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re going to try to do something,’ and then we watch other people capitalize on things that are out there, and we pass, pass, pass, pass and can’t get anything done and then it’s done. It’s like, ‘All right, well this is what we got going into the season with.’ And I think as far as execution, that means we go out there, we be aggressive and we try to actually get something done. Stepping out there and giving ourselves a chance to be one of those teams in the end.”
Here’s more on the Blazers:
- While Matisse Thybulle remains fond of Philadelphia, he admitted ahead of his return on Friday that he fell victim to some “more fear-based play” when he was a member of the Sixers and has felt rejuvenated since joining the Trail Blazers a month ago. “It’s been such a warm, welcoming reception from top to bottom, front office to coaching staff to players, a genuine one at that,” Thybulle said, per Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer (subscription required). “Like they are really happy to have me; teammates are excited to have my skill set on the floor with them. Coaches are excited to coach me. It’s been really nice to feel wanted in that capacity.”
- In a separate story for The Inquirer, Pompey says that the Trail Blazers are considered likely to re-sign Thybulle when he becomes eligible for free agency this summer. “That’s the thought behind it,” Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups said of trading for Thybulle at February’s deadline. “He’s the type of guy that we like, that’s going to compete on the defensive end and is going to play a selfless game on the offensive end. And he’s just a winning spirit.”
- Kevin Pelton of ESPN takes a look at the current and former WNBA stars who have roles in the Trail Blazers’ front office, including Tina Thompson, Asjha Jones, Sheri Sam, and Evina Westbrook. As Pelton writes, general manager Joe Cronin liked the idea of hiring WNBA players because many of them have diverse résumés as players, including time spent in overseas leagues during the WNBA offseasons.