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Damian Lillard on 'Meaningless' Games Comments: 'We Want to Play for Something'

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 27, 2020

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard passes the ball against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, March 6, 2020, in Phoenix. The Suns defeated the Trail Blazers 127-117. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard made headlines when he said he only wanted to return to finish the 2019-20 NBA season if his team had a legitimate opportunity to make the playoffs, and he provided additional context Wednesday.  

Lillard appeared on ESPN's Jalen & Jacoby (conversation starts immediately in the video) and said his comments were "taken out of context because it was a casual conversation."

He also clarified that "it wasn't a demonstrative statement. I was just saying we've been off for two months, and if we come back, we want to play for something." 

He pointed to the risk of injury and health concerns with coming back amid the COVID-19 pandemic and stressed he wants to play, but only for a chance to make playoffs.

Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported Lillard's initial comments, which made waves on Tuesday:

"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 in there."

The league has not finalized a plan to return at this point, and Haynes noted formats such as a postseason play-in tournament, a Nos. 1-16 seed playoffs with no regard to conference affiliation and just jumping straight into the traditional playoff format remain on the table.

Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer reported there was even some consideration given to a World Cup-style group format for the first round of the playoffs that would feature 20 teams in "tiers" with two teams from each pool emerging for an eight-team second round.

What's more, Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that "teams have become increasingly skeptical of the league bringing back all 30 teams to complete the season" and suggested a "playoffs-plus idea that includes 20 to 24 teams" could happen that would give teams such as the Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings an opportunity to qualify for the postseason. 

Lillard's Trail Blazers were 29-37 when the season was suspended on March 11.

That was good enough for the No. 9 seed in the Western Conference, and they were just 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in a traditional campaign and had 16 games remaining to close the gap.

Portland dealt with a number of injuries this season, particularly in the frontcourt, but advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2018-19.

It isn't difficult to envision Lillard and CJ McCollum performing well in a play-in scenario and challenging some of the top teams in the league, so it surely comes as no surprise No. 0 wants a chance to play for the postseason.

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