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Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (illness) expected back Tuesday; James Wiseman (wrist) nears return

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Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry went through all of Monday’s practice and is expected to play Tuesday after sitting out Saturday’s game because of an illness.

“He’s feeling better today,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said during a video conference with reporters after Monday’s practice. “He went through practice, participated fully, so we anticipate he’ll play [Tuesday].”

Curry, who is averaging 29.9 points per game this season, was a surprise last-minute scratch prior to Saturday’s 102-100 loss to the Hornets. The other good news for the Warriors is that Kerr is optimistic that both James Wiseman (wrist) and Kevon Looney (ankle) will play against the Knicks after going through all of Monday’s practice. The Warriors want to see how each warms up and responds Tuesday before making a final decision.

“If they’re both ready to play, they’ll both play,” Kerr said of his larger rotation with both big men back in the fold. “Obviously, we can’t play 12 guys so I’m going to have to make some moves and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to do because I got to talk to our players first, but if Loon and James are both active, then they’ll both be in the game.”

Kerr also noted that he anticipates Looney being back in the starting lineup if he is able to play. Looney has been out of the lineup since rolling his ankle on Feb. 2. Wiseman has been out since Jan. 30 after injuring his wrist.

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Julius Erving latest NBA legend to announce he has received COVID-19 vaccine

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Julius “Dr. J” Erving is the latest NBA legend to reveal that he’s gotten vaccinated against the coronavirus, doing so Monday.

Much like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Gregg Popovich and Bill Russell before him, Erving made the announcement in the form of a video distributed through the league.

“We were never afraid to take the big shot,” Erving said in the video.

Erving turned 71 on Monday, meaning he is well within the current age guidelines for vaccine eligibility as established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The video he appears in also includes short clips of Jerry West, Dave Bing and Wayne Embry receiving their vaccinations.

The league has released these videos in an effort to help encourage members of the public to receive the vaccine when they are eligible and it is available in their community.

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NBA Power Rankings – Why the Phoenix Suns and Brooklyn Nets are making noise ahead of Week 10

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Though the Western Conference standings look like a three-team race between the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers, the rising Phoenix Suns aren’t far behind. Chris Paul, Devin Booker & Co. have won 11 of their past 13 games.

In the Eastern Conference, the Brooklyn Nets just keep winning. After sweeping at Staples Center — and their entire five-game West road trip — the Nets have run their win streak to a season-best six games.

Where do the Suns and Nets check in? Let’s dive into our Week 10 rankings.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin, Eric Woodyard, Royce Young and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9

1. Utah Jazz
2020-21 record: 24-6
Previous ranking: 1

The Jazz, who have played a league-low 20 clutch minutes this season, considered their loss to the Clippers a valuable learning experience. “Their abilities to cause problems both offensively and defensively throughout games are what we’re going to have to compete against and have to beat to get to our ultimate goal,” said Mike Conley, who returned after missing six games due to hamstring tightness. “For us to play the game that we did tonight, and be able to finish the way we did and execute down the stretch against a great team like this, I think it’s a great lesson.” — MacMahon

This week: CHA, LAL, @MIA, @ORL


2. LA Clippers
2020-21 record: 22-10
Previous ranking: 3

The Clippers started last week without Kawhi Leonard (leg contusion) and Paul George (swollen toe) before losing Nicolas Batum to a concussion. They finally got all three starters back on Friday and stopped a red-hot Jazz. But the Clippers continue to keep an eye on the big picture as they ease George back on a minutes restriction that kept him out of the final minutes of a tight loss to Brooklyn. At 22-10, the Clippers are still where they want to be — they continue to build chemistry and try to stay healthy. The Clippers’ defense needs to catch up to the offense and should get better as Leonard and George get back into the swing of things. — Youngmisuk

This week: WAS, @MEM, @MEM, @MIL


3. Los Angeles Lakers
2020-21 record: 22-9
Previous ranking: 2

The defending champions look vulnerable for the first time, having lost three out of four games since Anthony Davis suffered a calf strain and aggravated tendinosis in his right leg and starting point guard Dennis Schroder was sidelined because of COVID-19 contact tracing. Nevertheless, LeBron James said he’s up to the task. “We’re in the winning business, and I’ve always been a winner,” James said. “So, it’s time to click into that.” — McMenamin

This week: WAS, @UTA, POR, GSW


4. Brooklyn Nets
2020-21 record: 20-12
Previous ranking: 7

Not that anyone in the league needed a message that the Nets are scary-loaded, but their long weekend trip to Los Angeles served as a potent reminder. Without Kevin Durant, the Nets took down the Lakers on Thursday (sans Anthony Davis) and the full-strength Clippers at Staples Center on Sunday. And there are at least some signs Brooklyn could be a better defensive team, with its games in L.A. as evidence. That’s six straight for the Nets, with Durant coming back soon and a schedule that could run their win streak into double figures. — Young

This week: SAC, ORL, DAL


5. Phoenix Suns
2020-21 record: 19-10
Previous ranking: 5

While the Jazz have taken the Western Conference by storm, the Suns are on quite a roll, as well. After falling to 8-8 on Jan. 27 after dropping games following a weeklong postponement of games, the Suns have won 11 of 13 games. In its past two games, Phoenix has scorched the nets from deep. Against the Pelicans on Friday, Phoenix tied a then-franchise record with 22 3-pointers. The following night against Memphis, the Suns passed that mark with 24 triples against the Grizzlies. — Lopez

This week: POR, CHA, @CHI, @MIN


6. Philadelphia 76ers
2020-21 record: 20-11
Previous ranking: 4

Philadelphia might have dropped a couple of games this week, but the real news here is the sudden arrival of an aggressive version of Ben Simmons. If the Sixers’ do-it-all point guard is going to add scoring in bunches to his repertoire — something he did without Joel Embiid on Monday in Utah (42 points) and with him Sunday in Tampa (28 points) — it’s going to make Philadelphia way more dangerous down the road. — Bontemps

This week: @TOR, DAL, CLE


7. Milwaukee Bucks
2020-21 record: 18-13
Previous ranking: 6

With a 98-85 victory over Oklahoma City on Friday, the Bucks were able to snap a five-game skid. Milwaukee built off that win two days later behind 70 combined points from Giannis Antetokounmpo (38) and Khris Middleton (32). They each had at least 30 points in the same game for the seventh time, the second-most such games by a pair of teammates in Bucks history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau research. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Dandridge did it more times (11). — Woodyard

This week: MIN, NOP, LAC


8. Portland Trail Blazers
2020-21 record: 18-11
Previous ranking: 9

“Dame Time” doesn’t have an actual statistical definition, but clutch time does. In those moments — when the score is within five points in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime — Damian Lillard continues to rise to the occasion. He’s second in the league in clutch-time points and is doing it on an absolutely absurd 61.5% from the floor, and 58.8% from 3. He’s 24-for-24 from the free throw line and is third in assists (15), and his team is 12-4, which tied for the most clutch-time wins in the NBA. — Young

This week: @PHX, @DEN, @LAL


9. Denver Nuggets
2020-21 record: 16-14
Previous ranking: 8

Injuries and inconsistency continue to slow down the Nuggets. After a big win over the Lakers on Valentine’s Day, the Nuggets dropped three of four road games with their only win coming on the strength of Jamal Murray‘s incredible, 50-point explosion against Cleveland. They lost a game they thought they should’ve had at Washington. JaMychal Green and Gary Harris are injured, and Nikola Jokic had to play through a thumb issue. The Nuggets hit the road for four more games before the All-Star break. — Youngmisuk

This week: POR, WAS, @OKC


10. San Antonio Spurs
2020-21 record: 16-11
Previous ranking: 10

The Spurs have not played since Feb. 14 because of positive COVID-19 tests among the squad. The NBA said the Spurs had four players test positive and had their games postponed through Monday’s scheduled contest against the Pacers. San Antonio was on a roll prior to the positive tests, having won five of its past six games. — Lopez

This week: @OKC, NOP


11. Indiana Pacers
2020-21 record: 15-14
Previous ranking: 11

The Pacers split a pair of overtime games versus Chicago and Minnesota this week before Saturday’s game in Houston was postponed. Domantas Sabonis put up 36 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists in Wednesday’s win over the Timberwolves, becoming the first Pacers player with 30 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists since the franchise joined the NBA in 1976, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. — Woodyard

This week: GSW, @BOS, @NYK


12. Boston Celtics
2020-21 record: 15-15
Previous ranking: 12

An ugly season in Boston got a lot worse Sunday, when the Celtics blew a 24-point lead to the Pelicans in the second half before eventually losing in overtime to fall back to .500. Their uneven performances all season, Marcus Smart‘s likely absence until after the All-Star break and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge’s saying, “Our roster is obviously not good” in a radio interview Thursday are only going to increase speculation about a potential trade. — Bontemps

This week: @DAL, @ATL, IND, WAS


13. Golden State Warriors
2020-21 record: 16-15
Previous ranking: 13

The Warriors’ season took more roller-coaster turns than usual this week. A 19-point comeback win over the Heat on Wednesday without Draymond Green (ankle) was arguably the team’s best win of the season, but back-to-back late meltdowns in Orlando and Charlotte followed. Stephen Curry missed the loss to the Hornets due to illness, but the Warriors are optimistic about getting James Wiseman (wrist) and Kevon Looney (ankle) back this week, maybe as early as Tuesday against the Knicks. — Friedell

This week: @NYK, @IND, CHA, @LAL


14. Toronto Raptors
2020-21 record: 16-15
Previous ranking: 17

After a perfect week against fellow East rivals the 76ers and the Bucks (twice), the Raptors have officially climbed over .500 after their disastrous 2-8 start. Since then, the Raptors have gone 14-7, good for the second-best record in the East (behind Brooklyn’s 15-6). Suddenly, Toronto is a team to be reckoned with in the East once again. — Bontemps

This week: PHI, @MIA, HOU, CHI


15. New York Knicks
2020-21 record: 15-16
Previous ranking: 15

New York just keeps on winning. No, it’s not pretty. No, it’s not flashy. But the Knicks play hard, they play defense and they’re third in the NBA in defensive rating. Tom Thibodeau has done an impressive job in his first season on the sideline at Madison Square Garden, and as a result, the Knicks currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Julius Randle, who is one of many deserving contenders for a reserve spot on this year’s All-Star team, should also get plenty of credit for the Knicks remaining far above water at this point in the season. — Bontemps

This week: GSW, SAC, IND, @DET


16. Dallas Mavericks
2020-21 record: 13-15
Previous ranking: 14

Kristaps Porzingis has found his rhythm offensively, averaging 22.8 points on .500/.423/.903 shooting splits in February. But Porzingis’ defensive struggles are a major problem for the Mavs, who rely on him to protect the rim, a role he excelled in last season. He has the worst defensive rating (119.5) of any player in the league who averages at least 20 minutes per game — and it has shot up to 128.2 this month. “He’s had to play his way into shape, and it just hasn’t been the same,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s a work in progress.” — MacMahon

This week: MEM, BOS, @PHI, @BKN


17. Charlotte Hornets
2020-21 record: 14-15
Previous ranking: 16

Terry Rozier hit some clutch shots down the stretch in Saturday’s comeback win over the Warriors, including the buzzer-beater that brought Charlotte all the way back. The Hornets had two games postponed because of COVID-19 protocols and now face one of their toughest stretches of the season with six straight road games to close the season’s first half. — Friedell

This week: @UTA, @PHX, @GSW, @SAC


18. Memphis Grizzlies
2020-21 record: 13-13
Previous ranking: 20

Justise Winslow finally made his Grizzlies debut in Saturday night’s loss, more than a year after Memphis traded for him. Winslow, who had a back injury when the trade was made and then displaced his left hip during a practice in the bubble, unsurprisingly looked rusty (nine points on 3-of-14 shooting). “This guy has a bright future with us,” coach Taylor Jenkins said. “He’ll be back to normal Justise very, very soon.” — MacMahon

This week: @DAL, LAC, LAC, @HOU


19. Miami Heat
2020-21 record: 13-17
Previous ranking: 19

Jimmy Butler and Kendrick Nunn combined for 51 points as Miami pulled off a solid road win on Saturday night over the Lakers. That was the bright spot of a week that included a loss to a Clippers team playing without several starters, including Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and a loss to the Warriors that came after blowing a 19-point lead. The good news for the Heat is after Monday’s game against the Thunder, they get four straight at home, including a Friday showdown with the Jazz. — Friedell

This week: @OKC, TOR, UTA, ATL


20. Atlanta Hawks
2020-21 record: 13-17
Previous ranking: 21

Hawks point guard Trae Young had 35 points and 15 assists in Sunday’s win over the Nuggets. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, it was Young’s 42nd career game with at least 25 points and 10 assists, most in the NBA since his debut. Also, he tied Luka Doncic with his fifth 30-point, 15-assist game by a player age 22 or younger. Only Oscar Robertson (eight) has more. — Lopez

This week: @CLE, BOS, @OKC, @MIA


21. New Orleans Pelicans
2020-21 record: 13-17
Previous ranking: 22

What a wild 48 hours for the Pelicans. On Friday night, they entered the fourth quarter up 11 but managed to lose to the Suns by 18. According to research by the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the largest defeat in the shot-clock era for a team entering the fourth quarter up double digits. So how did New Orleans respond? By setting the franchise record by coming back from 24 points down to defeat the Celtics on Sunday afternoon. — Lopez

This week: @CLE, BOS, @OKC, @MIA


22. Chicago Bulls
2020-21 record: 13-16
Previous ranking: 25

Chicago won three games this week — over Indiana, Detroit and Sacramento — but dropped Friday’s game at Philadelphia behind a 50-point performance from Joel Embiid. Zach LaVine continues to play at an elite level, scoring 38 points during Saturday’s win over Sacramento. LaVine has 281 points in his past eight games; the only other Bulls player with that many points over an eight-game span is Michael Jordan. — Woodyard

This week: @HOU, MIN, PHX, @TOR


23. Sacramento Kings
2020-21 record: 12-18
Previous ranking: 18

The good: Tyrese Haliburton had perhaps his finest game as a pro with 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting, 8 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals. The bad: The Bucks beat the Kings in Haliburton’s showcase performance, extending the Kings’ losing streak to seven. — McMenamin

This week: @BKN, @NYK, @DET, CHA


24. Orlando Magic
2020-21 record: 13-18
Previous ranking: 26

After being ravaged by injuries for most of the year, the Magic have finally stabilized and are riding a three-game winning streak into Tuesday’s game with the Pistons. Nikola Vucevic‘s strong play continued in a comeback win Friday over the Warriors, as the big man racked up a triple-double. Evan Fournier, meanwhile, has had a huge week since returning from back spasms, combining for 76 points, 16 assists and 14 rebounds over his past three games. — Friedell

This week: DET, @BKN, UTA


25. Houston Rockets
2020-21 record: 11-17
Previous ranking: 23

Center Christian Wood said he hopes to return from his sprained right ankle before the All-Star break. The Rockets have lost eight in a row since Wood, their leading scorer and rebounder, sprained his ankle for the second time. Houston averages 111.3 points per 100 possessions with Wood on the floor and only 103.1 when he’s off it. — MacMahon

This week: CHI, @CLE, @TOR, MEM


26. Washington Wizards
2020-21 record: 10-17
Previous ranking: 29

This past week was easily the best week of the season for the Wizards. Bradley Beal earned his first starting nod in the All-Star Game after being snubbed last year, and the Wizards have won four straight games, beating Boston, Houston, Denver and Portland. Not only are Beal and Russell Westbrook putting up the kind of numbers Washington envisioned, but Rui Hachimura has been solid and Davis Bertans finally showed some signs of busting out of his slump with 35 points against Denver. And amazingly, the Wizards are within shooting distance of the No. 8 spot in the East. — Youngmisuk

This week: @LAL, @LAC, @DEN, MIN, @BOS


27. Oklahoma City Thunder
2020-21 record: 12-18
Previous ranking: 24

As the Thunder transition their roster, there’s opportunity for young players to not just play, but experiment with roles and responsibilities. And one player who has quietly made a dramatic leap forward this season is Hamidou Diallo. The former dunk champion has played all over the floor this season but has improved across the board. He’s averaging career highs basically everywhere and is making a nightly impact. As the Thunder evaluate their young talent, Diallo has the look of a player possibly just scratching the surface of his potential. — Young

This week: MIA, SAS, ATL, DEN


28. Cleveland Cavaliers
2020-21 record: 10-21
Previous ranking: 27

The Cavs’ losing streak stretched to 10 games with a loss to Oklahoma City on Sunday. A silver lining: In the Thunder defeat, Jarrett Allen went 11-for-11 for the field, finishing with 26 points, 17 rebounds and 3 blocks. — McMenamin

This week: ATL, HOU, @PHI


29. Detroit Pistons
2020-21 record: 8-22
Previous ranking: 28

Detroit was hit with another blow during its loss to the Grizzlies on Friday when Delon Wright suffered a Grade 2 strain on his right groin. Wright is expected to miss two weeks. One of the highlights of the week was Jerami Grant‘s putting up a career-best 43 points Wednesday during the Pistons’ loss to the Bulls. After winning three of four, Detroit has dropped three straight. — Woodyard

This week: @ORL, @NOP, SAC, NYK


30. Minnesota Timberwolves
2020-21 record: 7-24
Previous ranking: 30

The Wolves saw this season as a developmental stepping stone to prepare for a sustained run of success with a young core, but without the results and progression, they parted ways with coach Ryan Saunders on Sunday. It’s a tough spot for the franchise, with Saunders a part of their fabric, but the Wolves are searching for a new direction. But at least Wolves fans have Anthony Edwardsdunk of the year contender, which probably will serve as the primary highlight of the Wolves’ season. — Young

This week: @MIL, @CHI, @WAS, PHX

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Damian Lillard’s love for boxing fuels his fighting spirit

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FOR DAMIAN LILLARD, the game wasn’t over.

Yes, the Portland Trail Blazers were trailing the Chicago Bulls by five points with 11.5 seconds left on Jan. 30, but he wasn’t about to give up. He made a 37-foot 3-pointer to cut the lead to two. After the ensuing inbounds pass, Blazers guard Gary Trent Jr. tied up Zach LaVine, forcing a jump ball with less than 10 seconds left.

Now it was Dame Time.

“Once he went to the jump circle, in my head I was like, ‘It’s about to happen,'” Lillard said afterward. “The ball is going to end up in my hands, I’m not gonna have much time, but like this is one of those ambitious moments that never happens. It never comes to life, but this time it did.”

Trent edged out LaVine, a two-time dunk contest champion with a 46-inch vertical leap, on the tip. The ball ended up in the hands of Robert Covington, who, after a brief scramble, shoveled it to Lillard.

With less than four seconds remaining, the opportunity Lillard had visualized was playing out. He took one dribble to the right, then rose and fired over the outstretched arms of 7-foot forward Lauri Markkanen.

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Damian Lillard carries the Trail Blazers to a shocking win with a pair of 3-pointers in the final 10 seconds.

Lillard’s third career buzzer-beater-winner — most in Trail Blazers history — lifted Portland to an unlikely 123-122 win. In a situation where many players concede defeat, Lillard never stopped fighting.

Fighting is in Lillard’s nature. It was instilled in him as a child, when he would watch major boxing bouts with his entire family. That’s where his love for the sport — a sport he calls his favorite to watch — was seeded. He developed a passion for the fighting spirit in boxers, and eventually turned his passion into production, making boxing an integral part of the offseason workouts that have molded him into one of the most clutch players the NBA.

For Lillard, no challenge is too great. He always gets off the mat. And, for those in boxing who know him best, it’s easy to explain why.

“Damian Lillard is not a basketball player,” trainer Cem Eren said. “He’s a fighter who plays professional basketball.”


“I TOLD YOU so,” Lillard trash-talked via FaceTime to retired champion Andre Ward, now an ESPN analyst.

Although the former pound-for-pound king was still on the SportsCenter set in Las Vegas as a ringside commentator following Teofimo Lopez’s unanimous decision victory over Vasiliy Lomachenko, Lillard did not miss the chance to rub it in Ward’s face that he was right.

“I’m still on set, this brother is FaceTiming me,” Ward recalled, laughing. “I’m like, ‘Bro, can I get done working? Man, OK, you was right … All right, you was right.’

“But Dame, he knows his stuff.”

Ward, a fellow Bay Area native, has become close with Lillard. They have bonded over their shared passion for the sport Ward once dominated. Lillard often is on Twitter commenting on fights big and small. Sure, he’ll make predictions about Lopez-Lomanchenko, or the first Andy Ruiz Jr.-Anthony Joshua bout (which Lillard correctly tabbed as an upset win for Ruiz), but he’s also knowledgeable about fighters who might not be household names to the casual fan.

“Aw, Dame, that’s my guy. We conversate all the time on big fights,” said current welterweight titlist and pound-for-pound king Terence “Bud” Crawford. “I wish him nothing but the best; he wishes me nothing but the best. He’ll hit me up and ask me what I think about this fight or what I think about that fight. I’ll give him my input on it.”

“Damian Lillard is just real to me,” added undisputed female champion Claressa Shields.

WBC lightweight titlist Devin Haney, another Bay Area fighter, developed a relationship with Lillard through his passion for boxing. Lillard proposed his boxing wish list via Twitter the day after Lopez’s win over Lomachenko, which included Lopez facing Haney — in addition to a dozen more matches, such as Caleb Plant versus Benavidez and Crawford against Errol Spence Jr.

“I’m surprised at how much he actually knows about boxing. It’s rare,” Haney said. “Most basketball players may know who I am, but they don’t really know the art and the matchups and the real business and the politics behind boxing. He actually, like, knows.”

Authenticity is the best way to describe it. Lillard’s fandom isn’t casual.

“He’s thorough. He helps the community and is real encouraging. A solid brother,” said Haney’s father and trainer, Bill. “He’s like a 100 dude. He’s not a knucklehead, but he ain’t no square cat either, though.”

Ward personally invited Lillard to Las Vegas for his highly anticipated 2017 rematch versus Sergey Kovalev, which would end up being the final fight of his Hall of Fame career. Lillard even joined Ward on stage for his interview following the official weigh-in.

“Dre doesn’t do no trash-talking and nothing like that and Dre was like, ‘you got what you asked for. We’re about to see.’ When I seen him do that, I was like, this dude is getting stopped,” Lillard told ESPN. “When he said that, he was like, ‘yeah, we’re here now. You’re gonna end my career? You’re gonna get what you asked for,’ and I was sitting right there. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah. I came for the right one.'”

Which he certainly did.

Ward ended up winning by eighth-round TKO after landing three consecutive hooks to the body.

Those prefight moments are a big reason that Lillard is drawn to boxing.

“I just love the charisma and the confidence. It’s a fight,” Lillard said. “You’ve got to have real confidence and real belief. I enjoy that part of it. So like the press conferences, the buildup, the callouts, the tale of the tape. I just love that part of it as much as I love the actual fight.”


GROWING UP IN East Oakland, California, Lillard had his love of boxing shaped by his family, who gathered to watch big fights. Well before you could stream a bout, various family members would host viewing parties for pay-per-views. Sometimes Lillard’s parents would host Oscar De La Hoya’s marquee bouts at their home, such as the one against Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker in 1997.

Just 6 years old at the time of that bout, Lillard still feels strongly about the outcome of Whitaker-De La Hoya. He rewatched it as recently as last season with those same feelings.

“I thought Whitaker beat him,” Lillard said.

“I just love the charisma and the confidence. It’s a fight. You’ve got to have real confidence and real belief. I enjoy that part of it. So like the press conferences, the buildup, the callouts, the tale of the tape. I just love that part of it as much as I love the actual fight.”

While watching boxing was a popular family pastime, Lillard found his calling on the basketball court, starting on the varsity team as a high school freshman despite standing just 5-foot-5. But he always maintained his love of the sweet science. When he left the Bay Area to attend college at Weber State, he kept up with boxing by reading online coverage, a routine he maintains to this day.

It wasn’t until years later that he turned his passion into a project.

Lillard’s older brother, Houston, connected Damian with Eren in 2014 when Houston was competing for a spot on the Portland Thunder, an arena football team. The two have regularly worked together in the offseason at Gem Fitness in Tigard, Oregon, ever since.

For Lillard, who had previously used a heavy bag at his home to “blow off steam,” getting into the ring wasn’t something he took lightly. He knew if he was going to work out like a boxer, he needed to be all in.

“I was in there every day, literally like a fighter,” he said. “I’ve got boxing shoes and all that, trunks — I’ve got everything.”

Lillard increased the intensity of his workouts during the NBA’s coronavirus-induced hiatus last season, using the break as a modified offseason. After leading Portland to the first round of the playoffs in the NBA bubble, he resumed his offseason ring work to stay sharp, not knowing when this season would begin.

When Lillard is in training mode, he begins work as early as 7 a.m. with lifting and conditioning. Then he slips on the gloves, going through as many as 8 to 10, 3-minute rounds on the mitts. Lillard focuses on throwing proper jabs, combination punching, operating at different angles, and moving his feet. He’s seeing what it feels like to counterpunch, using his hips to punch, snapping and following through on his jabs and transferring power into his shots.

“Not anybody can be a fighter,” Eren said. “[Lillard] challenges himself. There’s times where I’m like, ‘you know what, keep going.’ And he’ll be like ‘aw, naw, my shoulders,’ and I’m like ‘nope, I want you to keep going.’ So when it comes to boxing training, his ability to work is second to none.”

Lillard puts the gloves away during basketball season, so he doesn’t risk injury, but the offseason work has paid off in noticeable ways for the five-time All-Star.

“I feel like my legs are a lot stronger because I train in the ring so much,” he said. “My legs don’t wear out as fast.

“[In boxing] You’ve got to keep moving. Your arms are up. I feel like I’ve been able to shoot the ball easier from deep probably because my shoulders are more broad now. I’m stronger up top because this is hard to do. It’s hard to keep your hands up and you feel it. I feel like in small ways like that, it’s probably played a part.”

Ward praised Lillard for adding boxing to his workout regimen.

“That’s what I respect about him,” Ward said. “I see him in the boxing gym, incorporating that in his game … I mean, there’s no better cross-training workout than boxing for any athlete. Football, tennis, basketball, you name it.”

Although he doesn’t participate in intense sparring — “Obviously, [the Trail Blazers] would never really approve it,” he said — Lillard once toyed with the idea of participating in an exhibition bout. Former NBA guard Nate Robinson’s stunning knockout loss to YouTube sensation Jake Paul last November on the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. undercard isn’t the reason Lillard gave up that idea, but it certainly didn’t help.

“I feel like he got in there really feeling like he could win, but I don’t think boxing is a sport you can take six months or eight months and be like ‘all right, I’m gonna go in here and fight,'” Lillard said. “Basketball for me is a lifetime investment. I’ve spent my whole life doing it. I’ve got a Ph.D. at this. I’m comfortable every night when I get on the court because I know that it’s been my whole life just going. So, if I just go take a few months to train and work at something and all that, it’s like, ‘What you expect to happen?'”

Lillard is confident in his skills in the ring, but likened the idea of him taking on a real fight to a casual basketball player trying to join the NBA at 28 years old. When it comes to professional boxing, he’s content to remain a spectator.

“I would just be out there like, ‘all right, I’m gonna box just to box,'” he said. “I think that’s a mistake that people make. You can get hurt in boxing. You don’t play boxing.”

For now, Lillard will continue to play basketball, using his fighter’s mentality to help keep Portland in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. The Blazers are in fifth place, having won six of their past seven games largely thanks to Lillard, who is averaging nearly 33 points during the recent run. He has been at his best in the fourth quarter — Dame Time — as the offseason workouts that have increased his stamina and leg power continue to pay off.

Terry Stotts has coached Lillard throughout his nine-year tenure in Portland and still struggles with words to describe those special moments when Lillard can will his team to victory. After his game-winning shot in Chicago, Stotts called it “easy to see, but it’s hard to describe.”

“It’s innate. It’s God-given,” Stotts said. “He’s born with it, and you can’t teach it.”



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