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Lillard, Blazers are Winning and Feeling Confident

Damian Lillard says the Portland Trail Blazers’ confidence has been the key to their success this season.

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The Portland Trail Blazers have been good for a few years now, but something about this current squad looks really, really good, and All-Star point guard Damian Lillard thinks he knows the reason why.

“It’s our confidence,” Lillard told Basketball Insiders. “Last year we surprised people and might’ve even surprised ourselves a little bit, but we won a playoff series without home court advantage.”

Confidence through success, however, is only a part of Portland’s maturation this year. Humility is another part of it.

“Once we played the Spurs and they showed us the brand of basketball that it takes to win a championship, we took the confidence from winning a series and then being taught the way the Spurs taught us, and we wanted to be better this season,” Lillard said. “I think over the summer everybody took that challenge of being better and coming back and understanding that we have to set our sights higher.”

For Lillard individually, one would think that the famous last-second shot that lifted Portland over the Houston Rockets in the first round last year would have boosted his own confidence, but he swears that shot was more routine than circumstantial.

“I wouldn’t say there was anything special about that shot,” Lillard said. “I felt good about it because it helped us advance. If that shot doesn’t go in then we go to Game 7 in Houston and who knows what happens? Maybe we don’t even advance. But that’s a shot that I shoot when I’m working out, in practice. When it’s the end of the game or end of a drill situation, I’ll take a tough shot like that.”

That’s not to trivialize the shot itself. Lillard understands the significance of it and still gets hyped up thinking about it.

“I love to end the games, you know?” Lillard said. “Even before that, my whole life I always loved to end the games. But after that, it was like, man, the type of adrenaline rush that I got right away, in my head it didn’t even click that we won the series. It was just that we won the game.”

Of course, that shot put Lillard a whole lot closer to being a household name, something that many thought would prove challenging for a player from a lesser known university.

“I knew that coming from a small school and not being recruited highly, I had to work hard,” Lillard said. “I had to appreciate my way of getting to where I had been. So I haven’t forgot that, I just keep working hard. You don’t worry about being a star, you don’t worry about accolades, you just try to keep being who you are and stay true to yourself and that’s what has got me this far.”

Being drafted by a team that already had a lot of talent certainly didn’t hurt anything. The fact that Portland was already a relatively strong team upon taking Lillard sixth overall in 2012 made things easier for the young point guard.

“It was great coming into a team that had guys like J.J. Hickson at the five who played in Cleveland with LeBron, had been on successful teams and was a good player, obviously a superstar in LaMarcus [Aldridge], a guy who is the [go-to] guy and made it easier for me as a point guard, then Nicolas [Batum] at the three and Wes [Matthews] at the two,” Lillard said.

“We had a good group of guys to take the pressure off of me being a rookie point guard and also help me grow. They had confidence in me to be myself, and I think that was huge coming into a good situation with good people, actual good people and good teammates that were actually a good team without me. I just came along and kind of fit in with them.”

He has, of course, done a whole lot more than just fit in. He is now arguably the best player on the roster and one of the Western Conference’s top point guards. Portland is one of the Western Conference’s best teams, too, and a lot of that has come from continuity and the quick development of Lillard.

These guys are for real, and for the first time since Lillard was drafted, they really believe it.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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