Damian Lillard recently created waves with his statement that he didn’t want to participate in meaningless NBA games to close out the regular season if his team didn’t have a chance to make the playoffs. It’s a problem that the league deals with every year as lottery teams pivot towards “youth movements” down the stretch to save their stars and earn more ping-pong balls.
Lillard’s Trail Blazers and the Sacramento Kings are in similar situations. Each team is 3.5 games back of Memphis for the no. 8 seed in the Western Conference. If the NBA tacked on five additional regular-season games before starting the playoffs, neither squad would have a realistic chance of advancing to the postseason. It would be hard to convince players from Portland and Sacramento to take the risk of playing games in Orlando in that scenario.
Harrison Barnes was asked about Lillard’s sentiment on The Full 48 with Howard Beck, and yes, Barnes still has not shaved.
More importantly, Barnes shared Lillard’s viewpoint:
“I think Dame is right. If you come back and play, you want to be playing for something.”
Barnes is in favor of having the maximum amount of time before the playoffs begin not just for the Kings to make up ground, but also to get players in game shape and protect them from injury. Players have been preparing to come back without any assurances if there will be games, and Barnes is not alone in thinking that there should be enough games to make it worth their while to come to Orlando.
The Kings’ situation differs slightly from the Blazers in that Portland is a more fully-formed team. The core of that group has been together for multiple seasons and knows how to play with one another. Neither of these teams projects to win the title this year, but Sacramento would certainly benefit more than others from playing additional games to develop chemistry.
As Barnes pointed out, the Kings only played for the second time with a full roster 30 games into the season, and then dealt with another spate of injuries. They were finally coming together after an inconsistent start to the year and they need to build on that progress.
“There’s no other simulation that we can get for games. This group, where we’re at, we need to play, we need to play together, and playing for something is important.”
Barnes is a competitor, and this is the longest time he has ever gone without basketball, as he is one of several NBA players who does not have an at-home hoop. He wants to be a part of the group that goes to Orlando to finish out the season, but he also wants something to play for.
No playoff format will appease everyone in the league. As Barnes told Beck, “the idea of fairness — that’s out the window.” But as the NBA settles on a solution, there seems to be growing support from non-playoff teams to be excluded if they’re only going to be brought in for warm-up games. Much of the postseason will feel unfamiliar to players and fans, but that feeling that Barnes and Lillard have expressed comes around every season.