Damian Lillard makes his return to Portland on Wednesday night and he anticipates a warm welcome despite forcing his way out of town in the offseason.
Lillard was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in September after he decided the Trail Blazers weren’t close to being a championship contender. Wednesday marks his first visit back as a visiting player.
“The Blazers just weren’t in a time where winning a championship was possible or what was able to be done at the time,” Lillard told Oregon Live. “While I’m my best self, I want to be able to play for that.”
LIllard, 33, played 11 seasons for Portland and is the franchise’s all-time leader with 19,376 career points and 2,387 3-point baskets.
He was the face of the franchise — and the entire city — and was a good person in the community as well as on the floor.
And, of course, ‘Dame Time’ became a sensation as Lillard would tap his wrist as if wearing a watch when he knocked down a clutch shot.
It’s those memories — and many more — that Lillard will feel in his soul Wednesday night.
“I think it will be emotional because I care,” Lillard told Oregon Live. “I loved playing in Portland. I loved living there and still live there.”
The Trail Blazers reached the Western Conference Finals during the 2018-19 season before being swept in four games by the Golden State Warriors. That would be as good as it would get for Lillard as Portland exited in the first round the next two seasons and then missed the playoffs the last two.
Now Lillard is with the Bucks, who won the 2021 NBA title and are seeking to get back to that level. He has no regrets over seeing his time as a Portland legend end.
“I think sometimes you’ve got to make hard decisions for what you want ultimately.” Lillard told Oregon Live.
Lillard played against the Trail Blazers in Milwaukee on Nov. 26 and scored 31 points in a 108-102 victory. That win was the Bucks’ 13th in the past 15 meetings against Portland.
Lillard is averaging 25.1 points this season and he was recently named an All-Star for the eighth time.
The game in Portland will be Milwaukee’s second under new coach Doc Rivers. The Bucks dropped the first, 113-107 to the Denver Nuggets on Monday in the opener of a five-game road trip.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 29 points and 12 rebounds to pace the Bucks.
The Trail Blazers own the second-worst record in the Western Conference but are coming off one of their top performances of the season.
Portland rolled to a 130-104 home victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night with the 26-point margin of victory representing its largest of the season.
Philadelphia was missing reigning league MVP Joel Embiid (knee) and second-leading scorer Tyrese Maxey (ankle). The Trail Blazers pounced by scoring 110 points over the final three quarters.
“It’s always tough to play against teams when they don’t have their best players,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “It’s such a letdown, and I thought we saw a little bit of that early. We let them kind of get after us a little bit and then we turned it up.”
Jerami Grant scored 27 points and Malcolm Brogdon added 24 points and nine assists for the Trail Blazers.
Scoot Henderson, Portland’s No. 3 overall pick, scored 22 points. The 19-year-old Henderson was an unsuspecting piece of the Lillard departure drama.
Prior to the June draft, Lillard expressed to Trail Blazers management that he didn’t want to be part of a rebuilding project and would like to see veteran players added over the offseason. Once the team selected Henderson, instead of trading the pick for experience, Lillard asked to be traded, although he has since complimented Henderson’s game.
–Field Level Media
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