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How COVID-19 protocols led to a road trip unlike any other for Oakland's Damian Lillard

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SAN FRANCISCO — This road trip back home for Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, an Oakland native, is unlike any other trip he’s experienced in the Bay Area during his nine years in the NBA.

Under a normal set of world affairs, when the All-NBA guard is in town to play the Golden State Warriors, he finds time to venture off to see his family.

But due to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league implemented a new health and safety protocol for the 2020-21 season that restricts players from congregating at establishments that are not on the league’s “approved list.”

“Usually, I’ll go across the bridge and go see my grandma and everyone will show up there,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “Aside from the playoffs, this is the longest I’ve been back home without seeing them. It’s strange. I talk to a lot of my relatives and I know they’re getting tested routinely with negative results, but there’s nothing I can do right now. It’s disappointing because it’s something I look forward to when I come back home.”

Oakland native Damian Lillard couldn't see family members during the Blazers' trip to play the Warriors on Friday. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Oakland native Damian Lillard couldn't see family members during the Blazers' trip to play the Warriors on Friday. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Lillard has a large family in the Brookfield area of Oakland. When they gather, oftentimes there are ribs, chicken, hot links and tri-tip on the grill being prepared by his uncle, Oscar Johnson.

For now, in the midst of a pandemic, room service is the primary option.

“I just hope things turn back to normal and everyone stays safe,” Lillard said. “This is something we’re all dealing with, but it does hit home now that I’m back. Hopefully, we can all get back to our families soon.”

But on the court, he still maintains his dominance against the Warriors. Some of his most prolific performances have come in front of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, and Friday night was no different.

Lillard led the Trail Blazers to a lopsided 123-98 victory while pouring in a game-high 34 points and eight assists. He was 11-of-21 from the field and 6-of-9 from distance, in which a few of those 3s were 30-footers.

Curry produced 26 points, eight rebounds and was 4-of-11 from behind the arc.

Over the last few years, Lillard began receiving recognition for his deep range. But initially, the compliments came in the form of “He’s shooting them like Steph.”

Lillard didn’t agree with that premise.

“I understand Steph has been playing for championships and has been on national TV countless times. They were building a dynasty. So naturally, when he’s making all these long 3s, everyone is going to pay attention to him. I get that,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “Meanwhile, I’m in Portland and we’re not getting the exposure as some of the other big teams and so a lot of people didn’t know that I’ve been doing this. So I don’t try to convince people that I can do what Steph does. This is what I do.”

In the short offseason, Lillard and Curry had a playful banter on social media about each hoisting treys from half court as soon as the game started.

It didn’t happen.

“Nah, we never discussed it beyond social media. That would have been wild for us to do that in the game,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports while laughing.

Portland and Golden State will run it back on Sunday.

“I always look forward to playing against my hometown team, but this is definitely a weird situation,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “I’m used to hanging with my family after games and making a few visits. But we’re here to do a job. Hopefully we take care of business and hopefully I can see my family next time.”

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