CSN goes inside the Lillard home where mother thanks God for blessings

Damian Lillard mom Gina Johnson

CSN goes inside the Lillard home where mother thanks God for blessings

by Chris Haynes

PORTLAND, Ore -- Ribs, chicken, steak and hotdogs are fresh off the grill this Saturday evening.

The living room, kitchen, and dining room are filled to capacity with family and friends in this beautiful multimillion-dollar Lake Oswego home.

Gina Johnson is having a great day.

Game 3 of the Thunder-Grizzlies series is on the tube. For Gina, it’s just like old times in east Oakland. These occasions haven’t ensued much since her youngest son became worth more than $100 million in only his second year in the NBA. She says it’s been tough to get the family up to Oregon all at one time. But on this day, everything worked out.

“God is good,” Gina says.

Everyone has gathered together for Albert’s 78th birthday. He is the father of Gina, and if you didn’t know by now, the grandfather of Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard.

Houston Sr., Lillard’s father, lays the food out on the table. Rookie CJ McCollum arrives with his cousin at the appropriate time. It’s time to chow down. Gina says grace, thanking the Lord for the years He has provided her dad and for the people that came to celebrate this day with them.

Oscar, the grill chef aficionado and brother of Gina, without delay breaks out the dominoes and challenges anyone who thinks they can dethrone the self-proclaimed champ. A stud out of Fresno is pressured into playing. The results of that game shall not be revealed.

Trail Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool drops by and has a plate. He then makes his way to the living room sofa where Lillard is sitting, fixated on the game. The two begin to dissect what’s taking place.

“Domino,” Oscar shouted followed by a long, loud chuckle, prompting everyone to glance at his direction. In the meantime, Gina is relaxing on the couch beside Lillard and Vanterpool, taking in the scenery. She was soaking up the moment.

“I love the fact that I don’t have to work no more,” Gina said. “I just take the kids to school and handle the bills. I love having my family all together. I am truly a blessed individual.”

Nevertheless, things weren’t always fine and dandy for her and family. For 18 long years, Gina had worked for a medical insurance company. She became sick during the latter part of her tenure. Frequent hospital visits made it severely complicated to attend work on a regular basis.

“I was so stressed out,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do. There was so much going on. I just kept praying that God would deliver me.”

God answers prayers.

This was around the time Lillard was going through his pre-draft workouts and good reports were surfacing due to his strong showings. He had cemented his status as the best point guard in his draft class. Once it got to that point, Lillard ordered his mother to make a phone call.

“I told her to call them and tell them that we quit,” Lillard shouted, and then he proceeded to bust out in laughter. “We’re out of here.”

“You’re crazy, “ Lillard’s aunt Vanessa immediately said to him while cracking up. “You’re acting like you worked there.”

Two weeks later, the Portland Trail Blazers selected Lillard with the No. 6 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. His life and hers, would change forever. He took home Rookie of the Year honors, this year he became an NBA All-Star and most recently he inked an eight-year shoe endorsement extension with Adidas that is worth in the ballpark of $100 million.

Thanks to proper treatment, Gina no longer experiences those health problems nor has to worry about job security. She has moved on with her life. Nowadays, it’s strictly about making sure she’s there for her children and two grandkids. She’s happy she can concentrate on that with Lillard accomplishing feat after feat.

“He threw a touchdown,” Gina yells, looking at a live game on her laptop of her oldest son, Houston, who is the starting quarterback for the Tri-Cities Fever of the Indoor Football League. She's proud of her kids. No matter the distance, she’s supporting her family. That hasn’t changed.

It had to be some ride coming from struggling conditions to where they are now. Lillard’s fame has skyrocketed overnight, it seems. But, through it all, Gina says her son is still the same old Dame. And that’s what she’s most delighted about.

“He hasn’t changed one bit,” Gina expressed as she turned Lillard’s way. “He’s still that same respectful kid he was as a young boy. He takes care of his family and does what he can for people. The money and the fame haven’t changed him and that’s what I’m most proud of. He’s a good human being.”

Before my wife and I departed, Gina urged us to take some food home, which we obliged. Meanwhile, McCollum is getting rocked at the domino table.

“You have to do more than count to play this game,” Oscar jokingly said at McCollum’s expense.

The night was filled with lots of food, laughter, quality people and most importantly, love. That’s what you can expect when you’re around Gina and family. 

Trail Blazers put preseason to bed, proclaim they are ready for games to count

Trail Blazers put preseason to bed, proclaim they are ready for games to count

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The good news Friday was the Trail Blazers looked good in their final preseason game.

The bad news is it wasn't even close to beating the Golden State Warriors.

Stephen Curry scored 35 points and Kevin Durant 28 as the Warriors overcame a 16-point first quarter deficit to beat the Trail Blazers 107-96 at Oracle Arena in the preseason finale for both teams. 

Portland finished 4-3 in the preseason and will play host to Utah on Tuesday in its regular season opener. Golden State went 6-1 in the preseason and will play San Antonio in Oakland on Tuesday.

Both teams played their regular-season rotations into the fourth quarter before Stotts emptied his bench with about 7:30 left and the Blazers trailing by 14.

The Blazers for the past week have said they were ready for the regular season, and they backed that up with solid performances Wednesday in Utah and Friday against the defending Western Conference champions. 

With crisp ball movement and aggressive drives to the basket, the Blazers raced to a 26-11 lead as Damian Lillard hit his first four shots and the Warriors started 2-for-8. Lillard was particulary effective driving past Curry for layins and scored 10 of his 20 points in the first quarter. 

By halftime, Golden State had come back to lead 57-56 as Curry had 28, then Durant in the third quarter spurred a 17-2 run by hitting back-to-back-to-back three pointers. 

Stotts used the same starting lineup for the fourth consecutive game -- Lillard, CJ McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee -- with his top four players off the bench being Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh. 

Lillard led the Blazers with 20 points in 27 minutes on 7-of-15 shooting and McCollum added 16 points in 32 minutes on 7-of-18 shooting. Vonleh had nine points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes.

Notes: Meyers Leonard entered the game with 3:22 left in the third quarter after missing the past two games with a sore back. He made his first two three-pointers and finished with 12 points and one rebound in 16 minutes ... Shabazz Napier did not play because of a sprained left ankle. 

Next up: Regular season opener -- Utah at Portland, 7 p.m. Tuesday (KGW).

Blazers and Warriors putting on a show in the bay: GS up one at the break

Blazers and Warriors putting on a show in the bay: GS up one at the break

It’s the final preseason game for both the Trail Blazers and the Warriors as the two tipped off at 7:30pm on Friday night. The Blazers got off to a 5-for-7 start from the floor as a team and Portland hasn’t looked back.  Midway through the first quarter, the Blazers led 24-9.  The Warriors seemed to take more time to get its offense going.  Golden State went on a 16-3 run late in the second.

To end the first quarter, Portland shot 50% as a team to take a 37-32 lead.  Damian Lillard led the way for Portland going 4-for-7 from the floor, to score 10 points in the first. 

At the break, the Warriors are up 57-56.  Portland ended the first half shooting 45.5%, while the Warriors shot 42.9% as a team.   


Top performers of the first half:

Trail Blazers

Points: Damian Lillard, 17

Rebounds: Four players tied with 4 rebounds 

Assist: Mason Plumlee and Evan Turner, 3


Points: Steph Curry, 28

Rebounds: Draymond Green, 6

Assist: Draymond Green, 4

Following tonight’s game, you can check an all-new Talkin’ Ball live on CSN and if you can’t get to a television you can find The Scoop Postgame show on your phone and your computer streaming live at Facebook.com/CSNNW.

Playing for fallen cousin and his hometown, Tim Quarterman wins Blazers' final roster spot

Playing for fallen cousin and his hometown, Tim Quarterman wins Blazers' final roster spot

He says he plays for his fallen cousin, and also, Tim Quarterman says he plays for the kids growing up in his hometown of Savannah, Georgia.

And today, Tim Quarterman can add another to the list he plays for: The Portland Trail Blazers.

Quarterman on Friday won the 15th and final roster spot on the Blazers, when the team announced the 6-foot-6 undrafted rookie point guard out of LSU beat out veteran center Greg Stiemsma, power forward Grant Jerrett and wing Luis Montero.

“I know I’m fortunate to get this opportunity,’’ Quarterman said. “I look forward to getting better throughout the year. I think I’m going to have an impact on this league in a couple of years.’’

He is pushed by competing against Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in practices, but he is motivated by two things that run much deeper than basketball.

In February of 2014, his cousin and close friend Rashaad Spann was shot in the back and killed in his hometown of Savannah, Georgia.

Quarterman was a freshman at LSU when he received the call. It both devastated and changed him.

“It has driven me ever since that day,’’ Quarterman said. “It’s my purpose.’’

In the two years since, his purpose has expanded. Spann’s memory still motivates him to get in the gym and as Quarterman says, “have an edge on the court,” but he also plays for so many more: the kids of Savannah.

“I want to give the city something to be motivated about, give the kids something to look up to,’’ Quarterman said.

He smiles when he talks of Savannah, a port town on Georgia’s eastern shore. He brags how the city attracts tourists to its cobblestone streets and how the River Street district entertains both locals and visitors.

“I love my city,’’ he says.

But he worries that the youth have little to dream about, little to guide them. An NBA player hasn’t come out of Savannah since Pervis Ellison (1989-2000).

“There were a lot of people who were good that I looked up to who gave up on their dream,’’ Quarterman said. “I don’t want to be that dude to give up, and the next kid look at me and say, ‘Well, he had it, but he didn’t make it, so I don’t think I can make it.’’’

He pauses and thinks of his path. His cousin murdered. Going undrafted. Trying to make a team that already has three point guards.

“I want the next kid to say, ‘He went through this, that and the third and he still made it,’’’ Quarterman said. “Maybe that kid says, ‘Maybe I can do it the right way and make it too.’’’

Quarterman, who turns 22 on Thursday, made it with the Blazers thanks to what Lillard and McCollum said is a driven work ethic and a never-back-down attitude on defense.

Little did they know, but when training camp started for Quarterman, it was with a heavy heart. He felt pangs of loneliness when he arrived in Portland because he knew Spann would normally be the first to check in with a text or a phone call.

But those pangs only reminded him of his “purpose” – to play with an edge to honor Spann.

The Blazers’ stars didn’t know his back story, only that this undrafted kid was coming right at them.

“He reminds me of somebody who comes from my neighborhood,’’ Lillard said. “From Day One, he wasn’t scared. He was himself: Competing, not shy … comfortable, confident.’’

Quarterman is 6-foot-6, which makes him tall and long for a point guard, and he is so gangly that teammates chide him about his weight. But that’s where it ends. On the court, they say he can play.

“Defensively, he is pretty good,’’ McCollum said. “He’s active, long and he works hard. Extremely hard. He is going to be a good player.’’

Added Lillard: “He’s like a pest.’’

Coach Terry Stotts called Quarterman a "young player with upside" after Quarterman learned of making the team Friday.

Quarterman left LSU after his junior season, when he averaged 11.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He was stung when he went undrafted, and experienced another bump in the road when he seldom played for Charlotte’s Summer League team in Orlando.

To Quarterman, they are not setbacks, but rather the fabric that weaves his story. A story, he says, that those in Savannah will one day read with a happy ending.

“Eventually, when I go back one day, I will be looked at differently,’’ Quarterman said of his hometown. “I will be looked at as somebody who made it, came back and gave back, somebody who tried to help other kids make it. That’s big for me.’’

Damian Lillard: The Mind that Moves the Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard: The Mind that Moves the Trail Blazers

The night before the Trail Blazers would hold their first practice of the season, the team held a dinner at The Foundry on the shores of Lake Oswego, when a player asked to have the floor.

Not surprisingly, the player was Damian Lillard.

And not surprisingly, the team captain delivered a message that lasted well after the fish and chicken dishes were digested.

This was not a team with players who needed motivation, and it was not a team that encouraged rah-rah speeches. But when Lillard stood, the room came to attention.

“When you have respect from grown men, let alone millionaires, that’s a lot. You know what I mean?’’ Ed Davis said. “And he has that respect. So when he talks, everybody listens.’’

What they heard from Lillard set the tone for the upcoming season.

The Blazers’ minds, Lillard told his teammates, had to change.

No longer should the Blazers be the cute story of culture and chemistry. No longer should close losses to top teams be acceptable. And the 44 wins that was good enough for the fifth playoff seed last season? The West won’t be that easy this season.

“What we did last season was really hard,’’ Lillard reminded. “But the fact is, that’s just not good enough no more.’’

This team, he said, should expect to win every game. This team should expect to be better than last season. But it would be even harder than it was last year.

It was a calculated message, one that he felt needed to be delivered before the first practice in order to firmly establish there would be no easing into the season, no figuring things out on the run.

Truth is, his message was spoken partially out of fear. Ever since May when the team flew back to Portland after Golden State eliminated the Blazers in the second round, he harbored uneasy feelings. A part of him didn’t like the exhale of accomplishment the team felt after a 44-win season. He worried whether there were “too many pats on the back” being doled out after the series loss to the Warriors.

So on the first official day of the season, Lillard challenged his teammates. Everything we do, Lillard told them, has to be taken to the next level. Practices. Film sessions. Workouts.

Expectations had changed, he reminded, and simply matching last season would not be good enough.

“It starts in our mind,’’ Lillard said. “However far we want to go, it has to be in your mind first.’’

It wasn’t quite the “Us versus Everybody” fire-and-brimstone speech he delivered in the Los Angeles locker room that spurred their underdog season a year ago, but to his teammates in the audience, it cut a sharp edge to the season’s start.

“I think the things he has said internally, and the way he has played (in preseason) has really set the tone for our mentality and how we are approaching this season,’’ Mason Plumlee said. “Last year was ‘Let’s get better day-by-day’ – and that’s still part of us and what we are going to do – but now we are out to win every game. There is not a team we can’t beat. That’s how we are going to approach the season.’’

By the time the team left that night, the players’ minds didn’t so much change as much as they came into focus.

“He got us back into that mindset that we have to be ready to play, and teams are going to be coming after us,’’ CJ McCollum said. “And, that nothing is going to be easy.’’

If the night showed anything, it was that for all the strengths of the Blazers roster – depth, versatility, chemistry – their greatest asset still might be Lillard and his leadership.

He has a way with these men that is easy yet powerful, for he doesn’t just stir the fire in their belly, he moves their minds. They think not of themselves, but of the team. They think not of expectations, but what is beyond. And they think not what could happen, but what will happen.

On the surface, it may seem natural that a team’s best player is its most forceful leader. But behind the scenes, Lillard’s ascension was years in the making.

Before Lillard could be the mind that moved the Blazers, his own mind had to be trained to become a leader.

And the first step was getting him to speak.


Before Lillard’s first practice with the Blazers in the fall of 2012, assistant coach David Vanterpool watched the rookie play pickup games.

He noticed a startling trait from the No. 6 overall pick: he never opened his mouth.

So Vanterpool stopped the game and made a rule: Lillard was not allowed to cross halfcourt until he said 10 words. They could be about an offensive play, or a defensive coverage, or they could be flavors from Wing Stop. It didn’t matter. Vanterpool wanted Lillard to talk.

“I always think back to rookie year … he said ‘You are too quiet to be the point guard,’’’ Lillard said.

At first, Lillard struggled to find enough words to get passage past halfcourt, but soon he was blurting out about providing help defense, and about the need to get back in transition.

It would become the first of many exercises Vanterpool would employ in addressing what became their mantra: Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable.

They would practice shooting off the wrong leg. They would play 1-on-1 where Vanterpool had free reign to foul him, and Lillard wasn’t allowed to complain. They would complete grueling workout sessions where quitting wasn’t an option. And they would study film, noting not just Lillard’s  assignments, but also the responsibilities of each teammate.

“He was constantly in my ear, holding me accountable for every little thing,’’ Lillard said. “He has forced me to be a leader and to do uncomfortable things over the course of my career, and now I understand it. I see the value in it.’’

The maniacal workouts were established so he could have room to tell the next guy to work harder. And the film study provided a base in knowing how and when to direct players on the court. Meanwhile, Vanterpool would level harsh criticism to both ground Lillard and harden him.

“I would say something to him about every little thing,’’ Vanterpool said. “And he accepted the criticism. He never wavered.’’

Still, even as Lillard’s game flourished, he remained mostly muted.


In 2014, the Blazers locker room was a delicate landscape for a second-year player to navigate.

LaMarcus Aldridge was the designated leader, but he chose to lead with his play more than his mouth or his heart. Wesley Matthews was the heart and soul of the team, a brash, emotional veteran who often reminded that the right to speak was earned rather than given.  And Nicolas Batum was an accomplished player who was content to stay in the shadows.

“I tried to encourage him to say more while (the veterans) were here, but there were sensitivity things going on,’’ Vanterpool said. “It was just tougher for him. But you could see that whole time that he was preparing for what he would say in each situation.’’

Vanterpool knew he had a student on his hands, so he presented Lillard with the classic “The Art of War” in hopes the book would resonate.

Although Lillard said he was able to only read parts of the book, he was drawn to the chapters on leadership and controlling the environment around you.  He found that no matter how much he read, or how much he worked with Vanterpool, leading was difficult and sensitive.

The most difficult part?

“Standing up to people,’’ Lillard said. “For example, Wes would run ahead and Wes would get mad, and I would have to learn how to be in control of that situation. Instead of it being us going back and forth, I had to control and manipulate the situation. Like ‘My bad; I’ve got you … but the next time, maybe you could do this  … ‘ kind of nurse the situation. That was uncomfortable. Wes had been in the league way longer than me, I don’t want to step on people’s toes … but I had to learn to confront those situations.’’

Soon, Lillard would make his breakthrough. Near the end of his second season the Blazers were on their way to winning 54 games, but in March they were caught in a four-game spiral where they couldn’t finish games.

After the fourth straight loss, in San Antonio, the locker room was silent after coach Terry Stotts finished his postgame address until two words came from the stall of Lillard: “Hold on.’’

Before he spoke, Lillard thought about what he was about to do. He thought about Vanterpool’s lessons in being comfortable being uncomfortable. And here he was, thrusting himself into an uncomfortable situation with one question to answer.

“Do I care about guys’ feelings or do I care about what’s good for the team?’’ Lillard remembered thinking. “So I just kind of went out and said what I had to say.’’

The team has kept what Lillard said that night private, but by all accounts it was an impassioned speech about caring and sticking together. It was  a watershed moment for Lillard, and really, the franchise. Lillard felt freed of holding everything in, and the Blazers knew they had a special leader who was beginning to blossom.

“It was big in me being able to come forward as a leader because (the veterans) respected it, it wasn’t like people tried to go at me,’’ Lillard said. “They respected what I said and going forward I felt comfortable saying more and putting myself out there more.’’

A year and a half later, Aldridge left in free agency, beginning a dismantling of the veteran core. The rebuild was built on the foundation that Lillard would lead not only on the court, but off it.

“We had been preparing for the time it became his team,’’ Vanterpool said. “And halfway through his second season, I felt it could be his team, even if all those guys stayed because guys just wanted to follow him.

“And as soon as that door opened it was like he knew exactly what to say, he knew how to say it, when to say it,’’ Vanterpool said. “He knew how to pick one guy up while kicking him in the behind and how to pick another guy up at the same time by patting him on the back. He understood all of that.’’


Lillard’s leadership this season didn’t end with that dinner on the shores of Lake Oswego last month.

His play has been exceptional, with games of 30 and 27 points in the preseason, and his ability to gauge the mood of the team unmatched.

He approached newcomer Evan Turner after he sensed Turner was pressing and told the veteran to be himself and let the team adjust to him rather than him adjust to the team. And he continues to set the bar for work ethic, always the first to arrive for practice, and always one of the hardest and longest workers after practice.

But more than anything, he is the pulse of the team.

 “I’ve seen him grab individuals when he sees slippage, or sees someone fall into a bad spot, and he’s like ‘Look that’s not the how we do it here, we have to do it this way because this is where we are going,’’’ Vanterpool said. “He grabs anybody going from the wayside and doesn’t let them get too far. He keeps them close to the group so we can keep moving in a forward direction. And everybody has taken to him. Everybody has definitely taken to him.’’

It’s time to put a bow on the preseason: Blazers at Warriors on CSN

It’s time to put a bow on the preseason: Blazers at Warriors on CSN

Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors

The Trail Blazers (4-2) finish the preseason with a final game on the road to face the Golden Sate Warriors (5-1) on Friday night.  Golden State is coming off a 123-112 win over the Lakers on Wednesday night.  Steph Curry led the way with 32 points in the victory.  As for the Blazers, Portland also got a win on Wednesday night.  The Blazer beat the Jazz in Utah, 88-84.  Damian Lillard finished the night with 27 points to lead the way for the Blazers.    

Of course, the big news this offseason was the free agent move of Kevin Durrant heading to Golden State.   During this preseason, Durrant is averaging just under 20 points per game and nearly five rebounds per game.

Here’s a quick look at the other offseason moves for the Warriors-

Other new additions beside KD: C Damian Jones (pick No. 30), SG Patrick McCaw (pick No. 38), SF Kevin Durant (signed a two year, $54 million deal), PF David West (signed a one year, $1.5 million deal), C Zaza Pachulia (signed a one year, $3 million deal)

Who left the bay: PF Marreese Speights (signed with the Clippers), SF Harrison Barnes (signed with the Mavericks), SG Brandon Rush (signed with the Timberwolves), C Festus Ezeli (signed with the Blazers), SG Leandro Barbosa (signed with the Suns), C Andrew Bogut (traded to the Mavericks)

Resigned with the Warriors: C Anderson Varejao (signed a one year, $1.5 million deal), SG Ian Clark (signed a one year, $1 million deal), PF James Michael McAdoo (signed a one year, $1 million deal)


You can catch all the action between the Blazers and Warriors live on CSN.  We will set the stage for Friday’s game with Rip City Live on CSN and The Scoop Pregame Show streaming live at 6:30pm on Facebook.com/CSNNW.



Quick Links:

Damian Lillard’s excellent preseason continues for Trail Blazers

Evan Turner takes advice from Lillard, has most effective preseason game

Mason Plumlee and the pursuit of a tripe-double: Question of when, not if it happens


Video: McCollum: “We’ve shown we’re ready”

Video: Lillard’s advice to Turner, bold prediction about Plumlee

Video: Harkless steals the show in Plumlee’s postgame interview



Game Details:

Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland CA

Television: CSN, 7:30pm

CSN Programming:  Rip City Live (7pm), Talkin' Ball  (Immediately after the Blazers postgame show)

Live streaming: The Scoop Pregame Show streams at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/CSNNW. The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/CSNNW

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

Podcast: Dwight Jaynes with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum


Podcast: Dwight Jaynes with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum

This week's podcasts features the Trail Blazers backcourt duo. It's a great listen.

Be sure to check back every week for a new podcast. Past episodes have included guests such as Kevin Calabro, Mike Parker, Festus Ezeli, Darwin Barney, and more.

You can subscribe on iTunes right here: itun.es/us/1QFHeb.c

Damian Lillard's excellent preseason continues for Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard's excellent preseason continues for Trail Blazers

SALT LAKE CITY – If anything can be said with confidence after this Trail Blazers preseason, it is this: Damian Lillard is headed for another standout season.

The latest assurance came Wednesday in Salt Lake City when Lillard put on a show during the Blazers’ 88-84 victory over Utah.

Amid oohs and aahs from the Vivint Arena crowd, Lillard had 27 points in 28 minutes while making 11-of-16 shots. If he wasn’t aggressively driving for layins, he was stroking from the outside. All the while, he seemed to be surgically picking apart the vaunted Jazz defense with an overall vision of the court and precision passing on pick-and-rolls with Mason Plumlee.

“Tonight he had 27 points, but it was Chris Paul-esque the way he controlled the game,’’ said Blazers assistant David Vanterpool, who works extensively with Lillard. “The game happened the way he wanted it to happen. It’s been a process in getting him to have that kind of vision, but he has it.’’

Lillard this preseason is averaging 19 points in 25 minutes while shooting 48.7 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from three-point range.

Throughout the preseason, Lillard has remarked how the game has slowed down for him, allowing him to both anticipate and identify defenses. Combined with his ramped up shooting routine, which he continues to exercise after practices and before games, Lillard is playing with an even greater confidence than his previous four seasons.

But perhaps most important, Lillard says, is his feet are pain free after enduring a nagging bout with plantar fasciitis last season. The foot injury, which originated in his left heel, surfaced in December, forcing him to miss seven games and play the rest of the season hindered.

“My feet haven’t been healthy since December,’’ Lillard said Wednesday in explaining his explosion off the dribble and rise with his jumper. “I feel good. I couldn’t even run full speed and jump in the playoffs. Now that I finally have my feet under me and it’s pain free, it makes a difference. I can blow by people any time, and I can go full speed and raise up and shoot a jumper. Those are things that were taken away from me.’’

Earlier this preseason, Lillard said he wants to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award this season. It has always been a goal of his, but he says this season, with this team, he feels he has a legitimate shot.

If the preseason is any indication, he might very well be a candidate.

“The way he has played this preseason has really set the tone for our mentality and how we are approaching this season,’’ center Mason Plumlee said.

Evan Turner takes advice from Lillard, has most effective preseason game

Evan Turner takes advice from Lillard, has most effective preseason game

SALT LAKE CITY – The final statistics Wednesday showed Damian Lillard had two assists in 28 minutes, but pardon the official scorer for missing his most important assist: a bit of advice that helped free Evan Turner from the struggle of this preseason.

After Turner scuffled his way through Sunday’s preseason game against Denver, Lillard pulled aside the Blazers’ big offseason acquisition and told him to stop worrying about pleasing everyone. Stop worrying about fitting in. Just play basketball.

It seemed to work on Wednesday, when Turner played his best game since joining the Blazers, finishing with 15 points, seven rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes in the Blazers’ 88-84 exhibition win over Utah.

Afterward, Turner exhaled at his locker, muttering “It’s about g*$ damn time” before acknowledging his talk with Lillard on Sunday.

“That definitely helped for sure,’’ Turner said of his conversation with the Blazers’ captain. “I’ve heard that a few times from Coach. My biggest thing: you come in and you want to fit in, get the lay of the land. But last game, Dame came in and said ‘Be who you are and do you. That’s why we got you.’ That’s a big deal.’’

The most noticeable difference in Turner on Wednesday was his aggression. He actively looked for his shot, usually using a crossover dribble to create space for a mid-range jumper near the free throw line. Other times he freed himself for a baseline jumper and he made his only three-point shot, a swish after Lillard penetrated and kicked to him on the wing . After a 1-for-5 start, Turner finished by making five of his next eight.

Turner came into the game shooting 33.3 percent from the field and 2-for-9 from three-point range.

“Obviously it feels 10 times better when shots go in,’’ Turner said.

Wednesday was also the best example of Turner’s play-making skills that were touted when the Blazers signed him to a four-year, $70 million free agent deal.

He made a nice bounce pass inside that resulted in a layin from CJ McCollum, and later he found Allen Crabbe underneath the basket for an easy layin. He also looked more comfortable taking the reins of the offense when he played alongside Lillard and/or McCollum, taking the initiative to bring the ball up without first looking to the Blazers’ stars.

“I think he is getting better every game,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “He is going to find his spots and find out what works well for him in the context of our team. Tonight I think he found his shot, found his rhythm, found his spots.’’

It’s not like many were surprised. Lillard said Turner has played well in practices, but he noticed it wasn’t translating to games. That’s what spurred his talk after Sunday’s game.

“Last game I told him, ‘Don’t worry about what this person thinks, or what that person is saying. We want you to play. You are a play-maker, and you can score the ball, so when you get a rebound and you get an outlet, go attack. Go and play off your instincts. That’s what you do well, that’s what you do well in practice. We want you to do that in a game, so we can adjust to what you do and learn that way instead of you trying to get used to us the whole time. We have to get used to you, too,’’’ Lillard said.

Lillard said Turner listened to him and absorbed the message.

“He said, ‘All right’ … and tonight I could tell he kind of had his mind set on being aggressive and being himself,’’ Lillard said. “And he looked good doing it.’’

Mason Plumlee and the pursuit of a triple-double: Question of when, not if it happens

Mason Plumlee and the pursuit of a triple-double: Question of when, not if it happens

SALT LAKE CITY – The growing question among the Trail Blazers is not whether center Mason Plumlee will record a triple-double this season, but how many.

“Oh, I can see him getting a lot of them,’’ Damian Lillard said Wednesday after Plumlee had eight points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in 24 minutes in the Blazers’ 88-84 exhibition win at Utah.

Two developments have led teammates to predict the esteemed accomplishment of recording double-figures in three categories.

First, Plumlee has developed a mid-range jump shot, which this preseason has graduated from offseason experiment to a legitimate part of his arsenal.

“It’s for real,’’ coach Terry Stotts said matter-of-factly Wednesday after Plumlee hit two mid-range jumpers against the Jazz.

Second, the Blazers have added new offensive sets this season that will more often feature him in play-making positions. The new role builds off his effective playoffs, when he helped pick apart the Clippers with his athleticism, decision-making and passing.

Lillard says he sees Plumlee’s evolution in the Blazers’ offense having the potential to produce results like Draymond Green recorded last season with Golden State, when he led the league with 13 triple-doubles.

“A lot of our new sets that we’ve put in, where we are moving the ball around, a lot of times we are putting the ball in his hands to make a play,’’ Lillard said. “It’s kind of what Golden State does with Draymond Green. He gets a lot of assists getting the ball in the middle of the defense and making that decision. Mase is really good at it, so I could see him getting a bunch of them this year.’’

Last season, Plumlee rarely flirted with a triple double, in part because he scored in double figures in only 37 of the 82 games. The closest he came was in January  at Washington, when he had 10 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. The seven assists was a career high at the time, later eclipsed by a 10-assist game against the Clippers in the playoffs.

But now, with the added jump shot, and his growing role in the Blazers’ attack, Plumlee admits a triple-double is something of a goal.

“I would love to have triple doubles because that just means you are playing a complete game, getting everyone involved,’’ Plumlee said Wednesday. “A lot of it is guys hitting shots, four of the five assists in first half were guys hitting threes … so it means guys are shooting the ball well.’’

The last Blazers player to record a triple double is Nicolas Batum, who had 14 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists against Orlando in January of 2014, a drought that players believe Plumlee will end this season.

“He will definitely get some triple doubles this year, for sure,’’ CJ McCollum said. “He is good at everything – pass, rebound, obviously scoring -- you can see the jump shot coming along. He has really good basketball IQ, and as the season comes along we are going to put him in positions to where he is going to be utilized heavily and take great advantage of it.’’