Lillard confident in Blazers playoff vision, bench improvement

Lillard confident in Blazers playoff vision, bench improvement
July 24, 2013, 4:15 pm
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Lillard: Improving on more than just defense

LAS VEGAS – The teams that advanced to the 2013 Western Conference playoffs are in a solid position to be there once again in 2014. Denver and Los Angeles (Lakers) are the two borderline teams that could find themselves on the outside looking in.

Minnesota has had a fine offseason and New Orleans has stacked up its arsenal with some heavy hitters. Both of those teams were absent from the playoff picture a year ago, but are looking to change that.

“Hands down,” Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday said when asked if his team is a playoff team. “We got the talent to do it.”

The Portland Trail Blazers added some pieces this offseason, as well. Robin Lopez was acquired in a trade to rectify that major hole in their interior. CJ McCollum, Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson was brought on to enhance the team's bench.

So far so good.

“The West is going to be tough just like every other year,” Lillard told CSNNW.com. “But I think one thing that we have is chemistry. We got a year together and we got veteran guys that we brought on our team that can help. A lot of teams are going to be better because of trades and the people they signed, but they still have to mesh. Just like last season with the Lakers, on paper, people thought they were going to The Finals. Everything isn't always perfect on the floor like it is on paper. We're going to compete regardless.”

The Trail Blazers' Summer League squad recently finished up a 1-5 record with some ugly blowouts mixed in. Usually you can throw Summer League records right out the window. However that record is of concern being that seven of those players will be on the official regular season roster, and the starting five is expected to be regular rotation guys.

If the Trail Blazers want to be considered a playoff team, guys such as Will Barton, Meyers Leonard and Victor Claver have to improve dramatically from now to the start of training camp.

The franchise's floor general, who is calm and mellow in the first place, would appreciate it if critics follow his composed lead and put the overacting to a halt.

“It was their first time for a lot of those guys,” Lillard explained. “It was tough. A lot of the teams in the Summer League had players that have been in the league for a while. We had a few players that been in the league but I think everybody just wanted to do the right thing. Everybody wanted to play well. We just struggled a little bit.”

A little bit?

“It takes time. Guys between Summer League and the season, guys get a lot better. They'll be a lot more comfortable with what we're doing. They'll be more comfortable with the NBA game. You can't really base much off of Summer League.

“Even last year when I played, I took confidence from it because I played well in it, but at the same time, you couldn't just assume I would be good in the league because I had a good Summer League. You can't look at that and say they're not going to do well in the league. It might be a lot of pressure taken off of them when they're playing with members of the starting five a little bit. The regular season is a completely different ball game.”

Our conversation proceeded to go back and forth on who needed to improve the most. He brought up the improvements certain guys made and I gave him my assessment on where guys needed to be at in order for them to be considered a real playoff contender.

I noticed that he had a lot of “ifs” in his sentences and explanations. So I informed him he had too many ifs and not enough reality.

“No. It's not a lot of ifs,” he responded. “I can honestly sit down here with you and give you 10 games we gave away last year. So this year, I'm expecting us to make the playoffs. In my mind, yeah. I thought we were a playoff team last year, but that's just me. I could be crazy, but we definitely had a chance to be there. We will next year.”

“I gotta feel like I'm the best. If you don't that's how you defer to people. So hear, I'm trying to be more vocal. I'm trying to be as vocal as possible. I feel like I'm doing what I'm going to have to do for my team. And I'm going to use this as a stepping stone. When I go back to my team, I'm going to take some confidence with me and lead the Trail Blazers.”

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Day 3 of Team USA minicamp

- Kevin Durant and Kevin Love announced that they are committed to playing in the World Cup in Spain next summer.

- Lillard on that news, “It might make my chances slimmer now. It might make a lot of our chances a little more slim. If we were to make the team, we would know that we have guys who have experienced the World Cup, won the gold there, won the gold medal at the Olympics. To have that leadership and those guys willing to come back to do it even thought they didn't have to. It would be helpful during that experience.

- USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo says he will narrow the pull of players down to 25-30 sometime in January. He will not issue a deadline for established players to decide on if they will play in the World Cup being that a final roster doesn't have to be turned in until 48 hours prior to the event. Colangelo expects more players to commit.