Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard Calls Play-In Tournament ‘Perfect’ Return-To-Play Scenario For NBA
Damian Lillard, Blazers, Lakers
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In the weeks that followed after the NBA suspended the 2019-20 regular season, there were several return-to-play scenarios considered and discussed with the NBPA.

Ultimately, the NBA and union settled on a 22-team plan that is to be staged at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, Fla. Final details and health protocols still need to be decided, but for now teams can begin preparing for what’s to come.

Each will play eight regular-season games, and that will possibly lead to a play-in tournament to decide the eighth and final playoff spot in the both the Eastern and Western Conferences. That possibility was of particular interest to Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard.

Prior to the NBA finalizing its plan, Lillard explained why he believed incorporating a play-in tournament was the best option, per Nick Friedell of ESPN:

“I feel like a play-in tournament would be perfect, just because we actually were in striking distance and also had enough games to get in the playoffs,” Lillard said on ESPN’s Jalen & Jacoby on Wednesday. “But to that point, if they did decide that we’re just gonna go straight to the playoffs, obviously we would all be disappointed.

Lillard first made headlines by saying he wouldn’t want to enter an NBA bubble if it was without an opportunity to play meaningful games. He clarified the stance but largely kept to his main point:

“I was just saying we’ve been off for two months, and if we come back, we want to play for something. So after this type of break, usually when you come back — especially with how fast we’re gonna be jumping into playing — I think guys are at risk for injury, also at risk of being exposed to whatever, because none of us have been around each other, if so many teams are gonna be in one spot. “… Obviously as players, we want to play, but we want to play for something — especially if we’re in position to play for that in the first place.”

When the NBA suspended operations amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Trail Blazers were just 3.5 games out of the playoffs, with 16 games left to play. Now they, along with the New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns will have an opportunity to earn a playoff berth.

The Blazers — or any of the other aforementioned teams — can trigger a play-in scenario by finishing in ninth place and within four games of the eighth seed. The ninth-place team would need to win back-to-back games in order to vault into the playoffs.

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