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Rivalries, Beef, and Trash-Talk Fuel Damian Lillard’s Fire

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A look at how Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard harnesses criticism to fuel his stellar play on the court.

NBA: Playoffs-Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s become a mantra across social media with Trail Blazers fans and sports media alike. Don’t talk trash on Damian Lillard, because he thrives under that kind of pressure. Yet, trash is talked often, and not just by the media.

Rivalries between players seem to be all over the NBA. It used to be that when we talked about rivalries, it was in reference to teams. But these days, the rivalries seem to be more common amongst individuals. Maybe that’s the shortened contracts and team-hopping that is more common with NBA players than It ever has been. Maybe it’s the changing of the times. Maybe it’s the simple fact that we have a front row seat more than ever before thanks to social media. Whatever the cause, it makes things interesting.

In the Trail Blazers game against the Clippers on Saturday, we saw player rivalry first hand when Patrick Beverly and Paul George made comments to Lillard after he missed two free throws right before the final buzzer and the Blazers took a difficult loss. The back and forth continued into the media availability and then spilled over onto social media. For Trail Blazer fans, it was difficult to watch. Lillard has been such an asset to the team, and he’s become the heart of Portland. Seeing him miss shots he normally makes, and then watching the other team mock him and rub it in wasn’t easy. I found my 5’2” 140 pound self wishing I could dive into the TV and protect my favorite guys from the bullies. But in true Dame fashion, he didn’t let It shake him, and he let his actions speak louder than their words.

It’s not the first time we have seen Lillard as the focus of a rivalry with another player. Possibly the most well-known is his infamous back-and-forth with Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook. Westbrook and Lillard are often the topic of conversation leading up to a matchup of Portland and Houston. The two are often talked about on social media and amongst commentators. Fans have created well known memes. While the two don’t often publicly call each other out, there always seems to be tension on the floor when they play. I never really had an issue with Westbrook. But when shots were fired, and a rivalry was ignited, I found myself absolutely despising Westbrook.

These rivalries tend to fuel Lillard’s fire, and actually appear to impact his game play positively. After the beef with Beverly and George last week, Lillard came out and played one of his best games against the Philadelphia 76ers, scoring 51 points for the Trail Blazers. He followed that up with 61 points against the Dallas Mavericks after being criticized by a well-known media personality. For the fans, it felt like sweet, sweet victory.

While rivalries amongst players exist on the court and off, some obvious and others kept more private, you can’t deny their existence. In my opinion, when a player faces his adversary, it makes the game more entertaining.

Trail Blazers players have had their share of ongoing rivalries with other players in the league over the years. Their story lines transcend teams, following the guys when they leave one team and go to another. As a fan, beef between a Trail Blazer and a player from another team can change so much. A team that I never gave a thought to before can suddenly stir up in me a good-natured hatred. A player that I liked watching can quickly become someone I detest. It doesn’t take much conflict with one of my Trail Blazers to evoke emotion within me.

I often say that I’m a fan of good basketball players, but I’m an even bigger fan of good people. I like my players kind and controversy-free. But I’m not above a little friendly rivalry and competition amongst players. I like how It seems to often bring out the highest level of performance in their play, and I don’t even mind a little bit of trash talking to keep things interesting.