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NBA

Blazers' Damian Lillard welcomes the challenge of the struggle

The star point guard has faced heavy criticism over his performances

Update:
Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard ccontinues to struggle, but the star point guard welcomes the challenge seeing it as an opportunity to show character.
Tim NwachukwuAFP

The former rookie of the year has endured a difficult time recently but seems welcoming of the challenge.

Blazers' Damian Lillard sees opportunity in adversity

It was another sub par showing on Monday night for Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard. Indeed it's not the first in this 2021 NBA regular season. Though the pressure is mounting Lillard himself seems to welcome it saying it's a chance for him to show the world what he's really about. "I always look at struggles as an opportunity to show my true character," Lillard said post game. On the night the Blazers star finished with 20 points and 10 assists - which is credible - on the other hand he shot only 7 for 20 from the field and just 2 for 9 from 3-point range as the Blazers fell 113-103 to the Philadelphia 76ers.

"When things go great there's a lot of praise that goes along with that. A lot of people give you a lot of credit. They speak highly of you on social media, TV. 'Oh Dame had 60, Dame had 50.' They speak really highly of you. But I think it says more when you're going through something and s--- is kind of hitting the fan and you're struggling and everybody's got something to say and to me the real ones, they can keep on trucking and keep on going and still find a way to get the job done."

"...And, me personally, I love when those opportunities present themselves. Because when I am riding high and when I do get smoking hot and when I get going, people are going to look at it and be like, 'We remember when you were struggling and you didn't shy away from it.' I think it will be more respect for the success when they see how you handle failure and how you handle struggle."

Lillard went on to say, "So, personally, I embrace that. It's not fun. It's not easy but it's part of my DNA. That's how I got to this position. I'm not angry about it. I'm frustrated with it. I do see it as a challenge and it's one I accept and I know I'll come out on top like I always do." Monday night, however, saw both Lillard individually and Portland as a team fail to come out on top once again.

How did the Blazers and Lillard fall short?

Coming into the game against the 76ers, Lillard was averaging a career low of 18.3 points per game, a 34.9% field goal rate 23.2% from 3-point range. Of course all can't be put on the shoulders of the 6-time NBA All-Star, as the Blazers collectively failed to take advantage of a Philadelphia team that was without Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and even lost Danny Green in the third quarter due to injury. In fact Philadelphia more or less lead for the entire game as they marched to victory.

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Speaking on the result post game, head coach Chauncey Billups was open, "I didn't like our mindset, I thought we just traded baskets with them. Complained a lot about the no calls and things and I was too. It's kind of eye-opening, but it just is what it is. We're pretty much in the same space we were in the night before, let's come out and be better in the second half and we just didn't man, we just didn't. We didn't have it defensively. We were a step behind. And yeah it's a back-to-back, and they were waiting on us, but it's still a basketball game." The loss is Portland's second in a row.

Lillard takes the brunt of criticism

Though his coach and team may have questions for themselves, it was Damian Lillard who had to take the majority of critique from fans after the game. Lillard of course comes from nine seasons where he was the focal point of former Blazers' coach Terry Stotts' offense. The point guard went on to establish himself as one of the most dangerous scorers in the league. Billups by contrast, has tried to create a formation and strategy in which there is more involvement of others.

"Yeah. I mean, you probably can put some of that on it," Billups stated when questioned about his tactics and their effect on Lillard. "...Defenses are obviously doing the same thing with Dame. They trap him, he's doing a good job of getting off of it and there's too many times where we don't make teams pay for that."

Damian Lillard isn't hiding

"I have no excuses," Lillard said. He also added that he has no injury concerns at the moment, "I don't know what y'all want me to say about it. I prepared well for the season, my mind is clear. I don't have no reason for it. I don't have nothing to lean on. I'm not shooting the ball well, and for our team to be successful I've got to shoot the ball better, and I accept that. I know that I'm going to shoot the ball better and I know what it's going to look like and I've done it many times."

Damian Lillard looks forward

Named one of the NBA's 75 greatest players just last month, Lillard is no stranger to challenges with 10 seasons under his belt in the NBA. One could see his frustration in Monday night's loss as time and time again the ball failed to go through the hoop. In one instance Lillard could be seen shaking his head after a missed shot. It seems, however, that he isn't letting it get to the better of him. "Honestly, it's not as hard as it would seem," he said. "That's the best way for me to answer it. The easiest way for me to describe it is frustration. You come off and it's like 'All right, I've got a clean look,' and it [doesn't] go in it's like, 'Damn, I needed that one to go in.' It's more frustration than anything, just because of what you expect from yourself. ...It's important to be able to stay level and keep your mind right and keep your mind strong. I focus on finding solutions and that's without doing nothing crazy to search for a solution. Being unsure and not trusting my work. I practice, I show up, I go through my routine, I do everything to take care of my body, I get my shots up, I'm sharp with everything I do."

Lillard went on to add "Sometimes failure is a part of it, coming up short is a part of it and I don't know what else to say other than that I accept the failure, you know what I mean? I'm obviously not going to settle with it. I'm going to keep taking the same shots, I'm going to keep being aggressive, but you've got to accept that it's part of it and you've got to keep the belief and keep doing the things that's going to give you a chance to come out of it and be successful and that's what I've done."

Lillard for Simmons? Philly likes the idea

The heavily publicized saga involving Ben Simmons captivated many during pre-season and of course it still is yet to conlcude. It's interesting to note that 76ers faithful have for some time now wished for a trade involving the two players. Having heard the fans cheer for his introduction pregame Lillard was questioned on his thoughts. "Honestly, it doesn't shift my focus either way," Lillard said. "During starting lineups, they were booing everybody and then they cheered when I came through. I thought that was funny. That comes with professional sports. It's fun, it's a public thing, so I'm not uptight about it or acting like I don't recognize it."

"...I laughed about it during starting lineups but that was that."

As coy as the Blazers' player was, things didn't stop there as fans chanted several times during the game, "We want Lillard!" "Yeah, I heard it," Lillard said, before adding with a smile, "I mean, it's the City of Brotherly Love, I guess. They showed the brother some love. They showed me some love, but that was it."

Blazers' coach Billups was playful in his admission that he heard the chats as well, "I mean, I wasn't surprised at all," Billups said. "When they were saying, 'We want Lillard,' I was saying, 'We do, too.'"

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