Lillard: When faced with adversity, we look to each other
PORTLAND – When winning takes place, mentalities and goals tend to get modified. Including the regular season, the Trail Blazers have won 12 of their last 14 games and are one win away from advancing to the second round of the NBA Palyoffs for the first time since 2000.
They’re playing phenomenal basketball, peaking at the right time. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the best player in the postseason. Head coach Terry Stotts has been the best coach and without question, he has clearly dominated his counterpart on the sidelines for the Rockets.
There’s something special occurring, and the root of it may stem from some unexpected comments made last October.
For some odd reason, Stotts essentially put his job on the line during media day prior to the 2013-14 season kicking off. He was asked about his expectations for the coming season and he responded by saying he didn’t want to be satisfied with just making the playoffs.
“I wasn’t that surprised when he said that but it showed how much faith he had in us,” Wesley Matthews said.
Now keep in mind, Portland was coming off of winning 33 games the year before. Securing a postseason berth in itself would have been a huge accomplishment, solidifying a successful season.
But no, they ended up winning 54 games and locking up the fifth seed. Stotts set the expectation level himself. Overachievers, or are they that good? Judging by the way the Trail Blazers have jumped on the Houston Rockets to take a 3-1 first-round series lead, they’re all that. And a bag of chips.
Coming into the playoffs, the objective was to be as competitive as humanly possible and then see what happens. Well, they’ve got a taste of what success feels like and they want more. Their appetite has adjusted to loftier heights. The Western Conference is wide open.
They now have their eyes set on the ultimate prize.
“We’re not here for moral victories,” Damian Lillard told CSNNW.com adamantly. “We all want to win the championship. Of course we’re going to take it game-by-game, but we’re here for rings, man.”
Competing for an opportunity to play in the NBA Finals wasn’t always their mindset. Or at least they never wished to admit it publicly. They’ve enjoyed being the team that’s flying under the radar. However, it’s kind of difficult to do that when the whole world is praising them for their early dismantling of Houston.
This team is locked in like never before. No egos. No feuds. No chemistry issues. Everybody is in one accord. To think, this 2013-14 Trail Blazers’ squad could be the group that takes the organization back to the NBA Finals. Looking at the playoff landscape, it doesn’t seem that farfetched anymore.
“There’s going to be tough times, there’s going to be obstacles, but why not aim for the trophy this year,” Robin Lopez told CSNNW.com. “I don’t think we’ve discounted our chances at any point. Honestly, we just want to keep winning as many games as possible. Winning it all is what we’re striving for.”
The gold craving is getting contagious.
“That’s always the goal,” Dorell Wright said. “At the end of the day, that’s why we train so hard. I’m with that but we’re just going to take it one game at a time. We just got to continue staying together and playing as a team. There’s not anything wrong with having goals like that.”
But one step at a time. Portland must finish off the Rockets on Wednesday in Houston. Stotts had a vision, and it appears it’s materializing right before our very eyes. He’s right, this is a special group. He is making everybody a believer, including his players.
“I think at the beginning of the season, we knew we had something special,” Lopez said. “We had our stretch of games where we realized we can play with the good teams because we are a great team. Even with that tough stretch, I don’t think there was anything that swayed that notion. With that said, obviously we’re most focused on the next game.”