Blazers’ Lillard wants playoff shot should NBA resume

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – If and when the NBA resumes the 2019-20 season shut down in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Portland star Damian Lillard wants the Trail Blazers to have a chance to play their way into the post-season.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said this week that the league is considering multiple scenarios for finishing out a season that was halted on March 11 after Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.

But with much of the United States (US) still under stay-at-home orders in a bid to slow the spread of the virus, he said that he didn’t think any decisions would come until May – well after the NBA playoffs were to have begun on April 18.

One solution to a restart would be to go straight into the playoffs, but with his Blazers one spot out of the post-season Lillard said Wednesday he wants a chance to advance.

“I think it’s only right to play it out,” said Lillard, whose team trail the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference by three and a half games but have a much easier remaining schedule.

“Not only are we the ninth seed, we have one of the easier schedules in our final 15, 16 games and the team in the eighth spot has the toughest,” he said.

“We’re looking at that like how can you just go straight into the playoffs when we’re in the position that we’re in and they’re up against what they’re up against?

“I think you’ve got to play it out.”

That said, Lillard acknowledged that with players unable to train as usual it will take some time before they’re ready to produce late-season form.

“Typically we would at least have access to some form of training,” he said, adding that for most working alone in home gyms or going for runs outside aren’t enough “for us to be ready to do what we do at the level we do it at.

“There could be a lot of bad basketball,” he warned. Lillard was speaking from home in an interview with broadcaster TNT’s Ernie Johnson that was live on the NBA’s Twitter site. He’s staying in touch with coaches and teammates by text and Facetime. Some, he says, are optimistic the season will resume, others are worried that the stoppage could affect the coming free agent market and some just miss playing.

“It’s a weird situation,” Lillard said. “I’m training and all this stuff, and in my mind I’m almost like, I’m just going to use this as a head start for next season … We really don’t know what’s going to happen.”