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Damian Lillard bringing that ‘We Believe’ vibe versus Lakers

‘We are not coming into it like we are looking up to dudes’

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – At 16, Damian Lillard believed in his hometown Golden State Warriors. They were the underdogs against the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the 2007 NBA playoffs, but he knew they had what it took to make history.

And they did. The “We Believe” Warriors would go on to upset the Mavs in six games, becoming the first 8-seed to beat a 1-seed in the best-of-7 format.

“The main thing I remember, in my mind, we got BD [Baron Davis], we got Stephen Jackson,” Lillard, who is from Oakland, California, told The Undefeated. “I was looking at our team like, ‘We got the toughness to beat them.’ ”

Now 30, Lillard believes his Portland Trail Blazers, the 8-seed in the West, can do the same against LeBron James and the No. 1 seed Los Angeles Lakers.

Baron Davis (center) of the Golden State Warriors celebrates with the crowd after winning the series against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6 of the 2007 NBA playoffs on May 3, 2007, at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Ahead of the series, he explained his mindset.

“I look at it like, we know who LeBron is,” Lillard said after practice on Monday. “We know he is one of the greatest. At the top of the list. We know AD [Anthony Davis] is one of the top players in the league. We know who they are and we respect who they are.

“But we are not coming into it like we are looking up to dudes. We are coming into it like they can get beat like anyone else. The respect is there, but we are not coming into it like it’s impossible to beat them.”

On Tuesday night, Lillard and the Blazers showcased that “We Believe” mentality by shocking the Lakers 100-93 in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

Lillard scored 34 points, nailing six 3-pointers and all 10 of his free throws in the win. The Blazers have now split four games against the Lakers this season by winning the past two meetings, and are 6-2 since entering the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida. Portland beat the Memphis Grizzlies in a play-in game on Aug. 15 to earn the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

“Since we’ve been here, we’ve been one of the teams where every game has been important,” Lillard said. “There have been some close games. Our season has been on the line the last four or five games. We got a lot of experience in those end-of-game situations and with a lot on the line. Our confidence in each other, how comfortable we are with each other and how much we trust each other has only made us stronger in those situations.

“We came into this series thinking the same thing. We just got to do what we’ve been doing. Keep competing. Keep staying together.”

The MVP of the seeding games, Lillard has averaged 37.6 points, including four games over 40 points, in the bubble. Portland head coach Terry Stotts said Lillard is the kind of superstar needed to lead an upset against the Lakers.

“For eight years he has been special,” said Stotts, who in 1994 was an assistant coach for the No. 1 seed Seattle SuperSonics when they were upset by the 8-seed Denver Nuggets in the first round. “He has evolved, obviously, from eight years ago. What hasn’t changed is his passion and his desire. He was special, but now it’s a different type of special.”

Former Warriors forward Matt Barnes, who played for the “We Believe” team, agrees that Lillard has the makeup necessary for pulling off an upset.

“Dame embodies the Bay and everything it stands for,” Barnes told The Undefeated. “Heart, dedication, hustle and grind. He’s a blue-collar superstar.”

Golden State Warriors fans rejoice after the biggest upset in NBA history when the Warriors beat the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals during the 2007 NBA playoffs at Oracle Arena on May 3, 2007, in Oakland, California.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Lillard recalls watching from afar when the Warriors beat Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks in 2007. But the former Oakland High School star said he attended the game when Davis famously dunked on Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko in Game 3 of their second-round series.

The 2006-07 Warriors would ultimately lose to the Jazz in five games, but they are still celebrated by the franchise and fans.

Lillard and the Blazers are looking to make their own history. They’ll have a chance to go up 2-0 on the Lakers on Thursday night.

“We’re not overly talking about not being proud of what we did, because we are,” Lillard said. “We’re also not going to rest in it, pat ourselves on the back. We got to figure out the things that we didn’t do well to do better next game. And just try to give ourselves a chance to win the next game.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.