Let's go back to Mar. 10 -- the Portland Trail Blazers had defeated the Phoenix Suns at home, 121-105, in a revenge game of sorts after Suns big man Aron Baynes went off from deep against the Blazers just four days prior in Portland's loss to Phoenix on their homecourt. He went 9-of-14 from deep -- Aron Baynes did that to the Blazers.
This was also the time during the 2019-20 season that Trail Blazers fans were going to see the return of a healthy Jusuf Nurkic on Mar. 15 against the Rockets and even before that game the Memphis Grizzlies were set to visit the Blazers on Mar. 12.
But then the NBA came to a halt Mar. 11.
So now here we are; four and a half months have passed. The anticipation for the Bosnian Beast's return has grown even more especially after watching him in Portland's three scrimmages.
It's time for the Blazers and Grizzlies showdown.
This time, Damian Lillard is healthy and as Blazers coach Terry Stotts put it, "he's ready to go" after dealing with inflammation in his left foot for the past few days.
Remember, Lillard left the game early in Memphis after suffering a groin strain. The Blazers ended up losing that one, 111-104 on Feb. 12.
After Thursday's practice in Orlando, Lillard assured everyone his foot soreness is a thing of the past.
I feel fine. I worked out hard for 45 minutes last night with no limits. I was able to do everything explosive… I was able to do everything normal. -- Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard
As fans continue to show their excitement with the build-up for Portland's first seeding game, Lillard explained the current vibe surrounding the team and have the feeling of:
Let's get this thing going!
We're just excited to play. I think it's been months since we were at the [practice facility] every day. One person on each court, each basket and individual workouts… But then, even after that there was like – more time of official individual workouts where we still couldn't have contact with each other. Then we came here and we had weeks of basically another training camp and everybody is just ready to play. So, we're excited to go. -- Damian Lillard
Both Coach Stotts and Lillard discussed the importance of the first game especially since it's against the team they're trying to surpass in the standings to take hold of the 8th and final playoff spot out West.
This is a big game -- we know it," Coach Stotts said. "We're 3.5 games behind Memphis. If we dig ourselves a 4.5 game deficit and fighting the other teams for the ninth spot is going to be tough, so I think everybody on the team knows how important this game is."
Lillard explained that he is ready to play 40-plus minutes if he needs to in these seeding games, adding, "this is the playoffs."
That's the mentality right now for Portland.
[Listen to the latest Talkin' Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].
In order to make the playoffs, they're ready to approach these seeding games as such.
The first win I think is super important because it basically equals two wins for us. Memphis is a team that we chasing and it'll bring us closer to that eighth spot and also, give us, hopefully, some distance from the team that's right behind us for the ninth spot… And set the tone. You want to start off with a win. So you want to rise instead of starting yourself out in a hole and then you're going to be going up against some of the better teams in the East and West. So it's going to be huge for us to get the first one. -- Damian Lillard
Eight games is not a lot of time to keep pace with the Grizzlies to force play-in games. The time is now for Portland.
And they know it.
It's an eight-game sprint… One of the things I like about playoff basketball -- and that's the way we're approaching it -- is that everybody tries to do what they can to help the team win. Sometimes during the regular season you can have some peaks and valleys, but in the playoffs everybody's on the same page and there's only one goal. – Coach Terry Stotts
Lillard described the current roster as "a healthier team than we were before" and a "fresh team."
Now this healthy and fresh Portland squad will take on rookie sensation Ja Morant and the Grizzlies Friday at 1:00p.m. on the official network of the Blazers, NBC Sports Northwest.
Let the sprint begin.
Trail Blazers gearing up for seeding games: 'Its an 8-game sprint' originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest