12 Players – Heroic Labors: Damian Lillard

With the NBA playoffs beginning, the challenge that the players will face in their quest for a championship becomes clearer. While it’s foolish to argue that this restart will decide the legacy of an NBA player or organization, it certainly can help to build up one should they go the distance.

Just as Hercules had to overcome 12 challenges or labors in order to prove himself to be worthy, NBA superstars will be taxed in a way they never have before. Superstars will be responsible for carrying their teams on the court like usual but they will also have to keep their groups focused, engaged, and united in their quests for a championship. Here are the biggest challenges that 12 NBA superstars will face as they seek to win the title. It’s Dame Time.

No one was louder than Damian Lillard about what they wanted in regards to the NBA restart. He wasn’t interested in going down to Orlando just to play 8 exhibition games. He wanted a chance at making the playoffs. He got his chance. He lead his team to the 8 seed. Now he’s locked into a battle with the number 1 seeded LA Lakers.

Dame kept it rolling in Game 1…

…leading the Blazers to the win. Since then the Lakers have taken control of the series and are now up 2-1. On top of that he’s dealing with a recently dislocated left index finger. The Lakers have limited Lillard’s clean looks coming off drag screens in semi-transition and have forced him to finish amongst the trees inside. Lillard is perhaps asked to do more offensively than just about anyone not named Harden or Luka. Luckily for Portland, Dame is up for the task.

Portland’s record this season was a meager 35-39 but those 35 wins came on the back of a herculean season from Lillard. With a weaker supporting cast than he’s had years, he averaged career high’s in points (30), field goal attempts and percentage (20.4 at 46%), three point attempts and percentage (10.2 at 40%), and assists (8). Those are simply insane numbers, but what sets Dame apart from his peers is his leadership. Lillard is a temperature setter. He holds himself accountable and this permeates through the Portland locker room.

The one area lacking in Dame’s game is his defensive skills. At 6’3″ he’s somewhat physically limited but too many times he relaxes defensively or is late on a rotation. For the Blazers to pull off the upset against LA, Dame will need to continue to be superhuman offensively and put up more resistance on the defensive end — as should the rest of the Blazers squad.

The Lakers have begun to take away Lillard’s high pick n’ roll game with harder shows and occasional traps. He will have to be exceptional in his decision-making and trust his teammates to punish the Lakers in 4 on 3 situations. He must resist the urge to fire up contested, deep three’s if he’s teammates struggle at times to convert with the increased opportunities. If Lillard can make great decisions in pick n’ roll situations, provide more resistance defensively, and pick his spots to dominate offensively then the Blazers have more than puncher’s chance to send Lebron home in the first round for the first time in his career.

And when the game is gets late into the 4th quarter and the game slows down. That’s when it’s Dame Time. He’s been training for these moments since he was a college player…

He’s built for this task. He’s already the Bubble MVP. He has the chance to lead the Blazers in joining other great 8 seed upsets — We Believe Warriors, Dikembe Mutombo’s Nuggets. If can carry the offensive load and muster the defensive effort, he’ll have killed another teams postseason hopes — looking at you 2019 Thunder and 2014 Rockets.

by Frank Greco (@fgreco12)

Joel EmbiidJimmy ButlerDonovan Mitchell — Jayson Tatum — Pascal Siakam — Nikola Jokic — Giannis Antetokounmpo — Kahwi Leonard — Lebron James

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