Damian Lillard: 'I Don't Have a Fearful Mentality' Ahead of Game 2 vs. Lakers

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2020

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard calls for a foul against the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

As the Portland Trail Blazers prepare to play what should be a motivated Los Angeles Lakers team Friday night, Damian Lillard isn't scared of what LeBron James and Co. have in store.

"I don't have a fearful mentality about it when it's happening," Lillard told reporters. "If we lose, we lose. Obviously, we don't want to. I think that could make it a stressful situation."

Lillard has been the most fearless star of the NBA's restart, winning seeding game MVP honors and playing the best basketball of his career—especially since falling short in the clutch in an Aug. 8 loss to the Clippers, which nearly cost Portland a playoff spot.

Lillard averaged 51.3 points and 9.0 assists over the Blazers' final three seeding games to get them into a play-in series for the No. 8 spot in the West. He led Portland to a win over the Memphis Grizzlies to clinch the eighth seed and then dropped 34 points in the Game 1 triumph over the Lakers. During Game 1, he broke into a short dance after knocking down a three in the fourth quarter when the PA system began playing Too Short's "Blow the Whistle."

"My level of focus actually goes up in the fourth quarter because it's time to win or lose the game," Lillard said. "A lot of people in that situation are fatigued mentally or physically. So they might waver or just give in to it. I like to take those moments to challenge myself, level up and rise to those."

Five No. 8 seeds have defeated a No. 1 seed since the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams, most recently when the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Chicago Bulls in 2012, a year after the Grizzlies beat the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round. The Denver Nuggets (1994) and New York Knicks (1999) pulled off the feat when the first round was still a best-of-five series, and the Sixers' victory over the Bulls came after Derrick Rose tore his ACL.

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The Golden State Warriors' 2007 defeat of the Dallas Mavericks provides perhaps the best comparison for Lillard and the Blazers, as it also featured a red-hot guard (Baron Davis) who took down what looked to be a team primed for a run to the Finals carried by an MVP candidate (Dirk Nowitzki).