Damian Lillard Issues Ultimatum on NBA’s Return

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Getty Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard

Everyone is hoping for the NBA to return, though not all of the players are thrilled about the prospects of returning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic with little to play for.

The league is looking at several scenarios for a return to play and one is having each club participate in a few games in order for each team to reach 70 on the season. That would allow the NBA to fulfill its obligations to its TV partners and give the teams some warm-up games heading into the playoffs. Such a scenario would not allow teams sitting outside the playoff picture much time to catch up and make the postseason.

Damian Lillard Wants Something to Play For

Blazers star Damian Lillard says he won’t play if his club has no real shot at making the playoffs.

“If we come back and they’re just like, ‘We’re adding a few games to finish the regular season,’ and they’re throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don’t have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I’m going to be with my team because I’m a part of the team. But I’m not going to be participating. I’m telling you that right now. And you can put that [expletive] in there,” Lillard told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

The Blazers sit 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies with a record of 29-37. The team would only need four games to reach the 70 game mark, meaning it’s not realistic to expect Portland to have a shot at the postseason.

“If we come back and I don’t have an opportunity to make the playoffs, I will show up to work, I’ll be at practice and I’ll be with my team. I’m going to do all that [expletive] and then I’m going to be sitting right on that bench during the games,” Lillard said. “If they come back and say it’s something like a tournament, play-in style, between the No. 7 and No. 12 seeds, if we’re playing for playoff spots, then I think that’s perfect.”

What The Play-In Tournament Would Look Like

As I previously wrote, the league is considering a play-in tournament. Teams currently in the 9-12 spots of each conference will have a tournament to determine which squad takes on the current eighth seed. The winner of the matchups will advance to the traditional postseason, facing off against the best teams in each conference.

Here’s what the matchups would look like based on current standings:

Eastern Conference:

9. Wizards vs. 12. Knicks

10. Hornets vs. 11. Bulls

  • Winner of this bracket would take on the current 8th seed Magic to determine who will play the 1-seed (Bucks) in the conference.

Western Conference:

9. Blazers vs. 12. Spurs

10. Pelicans vs. 11. Kings

  • Winner of this bracket would take on the current 8th seed Grizzlies to determine who will play the 1-seed (Lakers) in the conference.

Lillard is confident that the Blazers would have made the playoffs if the league wasn’t forced to suspend the season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The club was just getting healthy in early march and had enough runway with 16 games left in the season to make a strong push for the 8th seed. The 5-time All-Star believes that his squad would present a tougher matchup to the Lakers in round one of the traditional playoffs than the Grizzlies would.

“And not to say nobody wants to see Memphis, because they’re in the eighth and they’ve been in the eighth spot for a while,” Lillard explains. “I feel like both series could be a little bit hectic for the Lakers, but I think more so us, because of the experience and where we are in our careers. Not too long ago, we played them in L.A. and obviously I had a great game and we won a close one, and in the playoffs, I’m sure they would come up with some type of game plan to not allow that to happen. But I want to compete. That’s what we want.”

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