Damian Lillard emerges from shutdown ready for playoff push

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© Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian

Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard marches alongside protesters towards downtown Portland on the Morrison Bridge, on June 4, 2020. Thousands of protesters in the liberal and predominantly white city of Portland, Ore. have taken to the streets peacefully every day for more than five weeks to decry police brutality, but recent violence by smaller groups is creating a deep schism in the protest movement and prompting allegations that white protesters are co-opting the moment. (Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Grieving the death of a cousin and missing his mother, Damian Lillard struggled emotionally after the NBA shut down because of the coronavirus.

But he also found inspiration in his activism for Black Lives Matter and his flourishing music career.

The Trail Blazers were just out of the playoff picture, sitting ninth in the Western Conference standings on March 11 when the league was shuttered. The team will be among 22 that will depart next week for Orlando as part of the re-start.

Portland will have eight games to secure a playoff berth, starting on July 31 with Memphis.

“We don’t have time to ease our way in, we don't have time to try and figure stuff out, we’ve got to come in assertive and aggressive and just go after it,” he said. “And if we fail, we fail, but we gotta at least come out there with that mentality of we don’t have time to kind of ease into it.”

Lillard welcomes the chance to resume playing after a difficult few months.

He admittedly had no idea how serious the virus was when the league closed down. He went to Phoenix with his family, intent on finding a gym to stay in shape during the layoff. But the NBA said players couldn't go to third-party facilities or trainers because of health concerns.

While grateful that he had his fiance and son with him, Lillard essentially sheltered in place once he got back to Portland. He didn't see his mom for more than a month. And then his cousin and personal chef, Brandon Johnson, suddenly passed away.