The Portland Trail Blazers held on to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers 109-106 in an overtime win at the Staples Center on Tuesday, bringing their preseason record to an undefeated 3-0. A 30-point performance from star point guard Damian Lillard paved the way, despite some team defense issues late in the game. This outing also marked the return of forward Meyers Leonard, who had been sidelined since March after undergoing shoulder surgery. CSNNW brings us the post-game interviews:
Is it safe to say that your stroke feels as good as it’s ever felt?
I’ve always felt like it felt great, but this summer I shot the ball probably more than I ever have. I focused on mechanic type things more than I usually do, getting my release up higher, letting the ball fly higher, give it a better chance to go in, using my legs more, and just shooting a lot of shots. I shoot and work out before practice, I shoot and work out after alone practice, and like I said early, I said ‘I got to be consistent in my work and the things that I do to prepare.’ So far it’s still early, so it hasn’t been that hard to keep up with and I think it’s just showing in the game when I shoot the ball.
Outside of your shot, how do you feel your offense is coming along?
The game feels real slow. I said it leading up to camp, I said ‘I can’t wait to put plays in and just start taking advantage of stuff.’ Now I’m calling plays where I’m not looking for my own shot. It’s like ‘I know that this is going to come open because this dude been overplaying the whole game,’ you know what I mean? I know that I’m going to be able to come off and draw Mason (Plumlee’s) man, and once he starts diving hard, we’ll either have a shot, but if his man is on me it’s going to be an easy pocket pass. Just things like that. The game, it seems slow and it seems simple. We’ve executed well, but it’s been pretty simple. Teams play hard, so I’m not saying it’s easy to do it, but the game feels like I can see things happening more clear.
I was excited to play and I felt… okay. Definitely still have some rust to get rid of, but the main thing is just my conditioning. Saturday was the first time I had played live 5-on-5 or any true full court basketball, so just getting back in the flow of things, just getting as comfortable as possible throughout these preseason games. All things considered, I thought it went pretty well, but again, just room for progress.
You had to love that first play though, huh?
Yeah. I think they thought I was just going to sit on the 3-point line and Dame found me with a nice pass and luckily I was able to finish at the rim. (I’m) trying to mix it up, again, be more of a threat out there, continue to work on being comfortable in different areas of the floor—especially in game situations—but again, it’s just day by day.
Late in the game too, was that when you kind of started to feel the (indiscernible), and obviously having the ball in your hands late in the game too is maybe a little new for you as well.
Yeah, it’s a little new for me. I mean, obviously I have to continue to be comfortable, again, with different situations, being counted on, and I’m able to carry that load. I think once my body is back feeling 100 percent, my legs, my back’s been pretty stiff from being back and being on the floor really banging with bodies and getting up and down. So just get my treatment and make sure I stay on top of that and just get more comfortable with being thrown in different situations.
Do you chalk up the six fouls to that? Rhythm?
A little bit of a rhythm. Couple of them I had to take at the rim. I told myself—it’s not something I’ve necessarily verbalized—but I’m going to go after people at the rim, so that’s something I’m going to do. Clearly I’m going to try to block the shot, but there was one with (Timofey) Mozgov and one with Yi (Jianlian) there at the end. The other ones were just kind of, honestly, cheap ticky-tac fouls, but once I get back in the flow of playing, it’ll be just fine.
How can you tell that you’re figuring things out?
There’s times where we have stretches where we do turn things really well and then fall off for a couple plays, but overall I think we’re doing a good job of just continuing to get better. It’ll come with time. Added a couple new guys in there. I think it will come.
What are some things that you like to see shored up or improved upon?
One is our defense. I think that’s the main thing. We got to be a better defensive team. We got to take a little more pride in rebounding and defending and locking in on little things. It will make a big difference. And then offensively, I think we got to just move the ball a little bit more. Sometimes it gets stagnant, then we got to do a better job of just moving around, moving the ball.
I think I’ve been solid. I think I can bring a lot more to the table, but overall I think I’ve been pretty solid on both sides of the ball, trying to just make things happen, and I think I’ve done a good job.
Terry (Stotts) said he thought, defensively in the second half, your energy was helpful to the team and a bit of a difference maker.
They were playing with a lot more energy than us and sometimes it’s a little hard to get up for a preseason game, but I got out there and just did what I do. I just brought some energy, made some things happen defensively, and it translated and we started to get easy layups, easy shots, stuff like that.
I didn’t realize it was 15 in a row during the course of the game. I just knew (Lillard) had it going, I didn’t know it was that much. But what I liked most about it was that, for the most part, they were good looks, some of them coming off of sets and good screens and he nailed it and got to the basket a couple times. It’s not the fact that he scored 15 in a row, it was more how he scored them.
He’s always had a really smooth shot, but it seems like this season it’s just better almost for him. Like it’s like a ball machine.
Well, I think, as I’m sure he’ll say, he feels good physically. Last couple months of the season last year he was struggling with the plantar fasciitis. I think his body feels good, I think he’s in a good rhythm, and when he is, he’s demonstrated that he is pretty good.
I liked the way (Leonard) moved. He got a nice cut to the basket early on, he took a three. I think there was a little bit of a rust from not playing competitively on an NBA court for a while, but I think he showed what he can do. They started switching his pick-and-rolls, which made it a little bit difficult for us, but I think when Dame got his run going in the second half, Meyers was involved in the screens and created problems there, so it was a good first step for him.