Damian Lillard
Getty Images

Damian Lillard turns bubble hotel room into mini recording studio

Leave a comment

When Damian Lillard finishes his daily hoop duties for the Portland Trailblazers, he will spend most of his downtime inside the NBA bubble working on his other passion: music.

The All-Star point guard turned part of his suite into a mini recording studio at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, where his team will make a push for a playoff berth. The league constructed a social bubble to resume the NBA season and protect 22 teams from COVID-19 while at the resort, which features several activities such as walking trails, a bowling alley and a lake to fish or boat.

But under his rap persona Dame D.O.L.L.A., Lillard expects to turn his attention to laying down tracks when he is not occupied with basketball. He’s striving to make his rap persona just as known as his pro basketball identity, like the Emmy-winning actor Donald Glover who won multiple Grammys under his alter ego, Childish Gambino.

“That’s the point I want to get to,” he said. “I admire him with how he’s established himself into two different lanes. People respect him in each lane. That’s my goal.”

Lillard’s room is equipped with a microphone perched on a stand, headphones, laptop with recording software and audio interface to control everything. He said the thick carpet in his room should help the sound quality.

He said the setup is “simple,” but it’s good enough for him to create music in a room where he can isolate himself.

“I saw people saying that there would be complaints of him recording music, but I don’t have any speakers. Everything is in the headphone speakers,” he said. “I’m rapping out loud, but not screaming to the top of my lungs. Nobody is going to hear me rapping.”

Lillard has earned respect in the hip-hop world as a socially conscious lyricist as Dame D.O.L.L.A., which stands for Different On Levels the Lord Allows. He’s recorded songs with some of the biggest names in the music industry including Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz and Jamie Foxx. He also performed with Wayne during NBA All-Star weekend earlier this year.

Last month, Lillard released “Goat Spirit” featuring Raphael Saadiq and the powerful “Blacklist,” a song addressing police brutality of unarmed Black people. It’s a song he felt compelled to put out after the killing of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes.

Once the NBA season restarts, Lillard will have the words “How Many More?” stitched on his jersey. He said he does not consider himself an activist, but he wants to express his feelings on the good and negative matters impacting his community.

That’s what also led Lillard to release his new song and music video “Home Team” on Friday. The song pays homage to his family and closest friends that he financially helped start their entrepreneurial journey.

“They do all these things and those are the things that I’m investing in to make my people deeper and stronger,” said Lillard of his friends who have become a businessman, chef, handyman and even a farmer. “It’s not an entourage of people that hangout with me, because I’m an NBA player. It’s my strong circle.”

Russell Westbrook suffers strained quadriceps, out Friday, could miss playoff games

Russell Westbrook injury
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Houston Rockets are going to be a trendy pick to make a deep in the West playoffs, but that will be hard to envision if Russell Westbrook misses time.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey announced that an MRI revealed Westbrook has a strained quadriceps muscle in his right leg. He is not playing today (Wednesday) against the Pacers and will be out Friday against the 76ers as well. He will be re-evaluated before the playoff tip-off next week, but his status for those games is unclear.

Westbrook has been just a little off at the restart. He averaged 27.2 points per game during the regular season, but that has been down to 24.3 in the Orlando restart. His 53.6 true shooting percentage for the season (near the league average) fell to 50% in the bubble.

The Rockets have been a strong 4-2 in the bubble with their small-ball system and have held on to the four seed, but they haven’t completely found a rhythm yet (as we saw pre-shutdown. In a likely first-round matchup with Oklahoma City, Houston would need Westbrook and his explosive athleticism.

Without Westbrook expect more of Eric Gordon, who just returned to the rotation Wednesday from injury, plus Austin Rivers, Ben McLemore, even maybe Jeff Green — with a switchable roster Mike D’Antoni has a lot of options to soak up those minutes.

He just doesn’t have anyone as good.

Celtics sign coach Brad Stevens to contract extension

Celtics coach Brad Stevens
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Celtics shocked by hiring Brad Stevens from Butler in 2013. He was a mid-major college coach, and even big-time college coaches rarely translated to the NBA. In fact, Stevens was viewed as such a college coach, rumors of him returning to that level persisted for years.

But Stevens has turned into a quintessential NBA coach. Despite taking over amid a rebuild, Stevens has won 56% of his games with Boston. It’s difficult to see him anywhere else.

Especially now.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics have signed head coach Brad Stevens to a contract extension, the team announced today.

Stevens, who previously signed a contract extension in 2016, is one of the NBA’s top coaches. He implements crisp schemes on both ends of the floor and communicates roles clearly to his players. At just 43, he could rival some of the longest coaching tenures in NBA history.

There are still questions about Stevens’ ability to coach stars. They might become more pronounced as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown ascend.

But that’s a first-world NBA problem – having a coach who raises his team’s level and premier talent young players who could lift it even higher.

Another week, still zero players test positive at NBA restart

NBA COVID-19
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s starting to sound routine, but it shouldn’t — that the NBA is pulling off an impressive feat keeping COVID-19 outside the bubble (just watch other sports try to come back).

The league announced that 342 players were tested for COVID-19 on the NBA campus in the past week and there were zero confirmed positive tests. The league has had no positive tests inside the NBA bubble since it started.

It’s a testament to the tone Commissioner Adam Silver set (working with Chris Paul and the players’ union) setting a tone of patience and — to use a coaching cliche — not skipping steps.

The NBA began testing players in their home markets before they arrived in Orlando (that’s where a number of players tested positive, and were quarantined/treated in those markets). Once teams arrived in Orlando, players were quarantined and tested again.

The idea was simple — to keep the virus outside of the bubble — but the execution was not. Nor was making sure there was buy-in from the players (and, for the most part, there has been).

At least so far. There are about two months of games remaining through the end of the finals, and when family members arrive next month there will be new ways the virus could penetrate the bubble.

It isn’t time for an NBA victory lap yet, but so far so good.

Nate McMillan agrees to contract extension as Pacers coach

Nate McMillan extension
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The rumor that Nate McMillan was on the hot seat in Indiana? Turns out, about as accurate as the rumor Nicholas Cage is a time traveler.

McMillan and the Pacers have agreed to a contract extension, the team announced Wednesday (it was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN). McMillan had one year remaining on his current contract. There are no details about the length or compensation. But McMillan isn’t going anywhere.

“What Nate has done in four seasons with our franchise merits this extension,” said President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard. “Between injuries and changes in personnel, he and his coaching staff have adapted and produced positive results. He also represents the franchise, the city and our state in a first-class manner.”

This is the right move by the Pacers, McMillan has been one of the better coaches in the NBA the past couple of seasons (he was fourth in Coach of the Year voting a season ago and will get votes again this season). He has gotten the Pacers to exceed their on-paper talent level a few seasons in a row. Talks to extend McMillan were likely in the works already, but the push to get a longer contract announced now — while the Pacers are still playing at the NBA restart in Orlando — likely was tied to that rumor going public.

The Pacers are the fifth seed in the East and will face the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. That Indiana got there without a healthy Victor Oladipo — thanks to strong play from Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis for most of the season, then from T.J. Warren at the NBA restart — is a testament to McMillan’s coaching.

McMillan’s style isn’t flashy or modern — the Pacers are bottom eight in both three-pointers attempted and pace this season — but it works. The Pacers offense has been pretty average this season overall (18th in the league), which is not bad considering the team was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level). The Pacers also have found and developed good young players.

All of that ties back to coaching, which is why McMillan earned this extension.