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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Lillard makes triumphant pre-season Bucks’ debut

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LOS ANGELES—Damian Lillard made a triumphant NBA pre-season debut for the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, combining well with Giannis Antetokounmpo in a 108-97 road victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Lillard, a seven-time All-Star guard traded from Portland to the Bucks last month, scored 14 points with three steals, three assists and two rebounds in 22 minutes on the court.

The 33-year-old Tokyo Olympic gold medalist sank 3-of-10 shots from the floor, 2-of-7 from 3-point range, and all six of his free throws.

“I felt great. It’s always a little bit of rust in the beginning but the game was very simple,” Lillard said.

Damian Lillard of the Milwaukee Bucks dribbles the ball during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. AFP

“It was a matter of getting my wind up, just getting into the rhythm. They came out blitzing me in the beginning so it woke me up. It was just good to be back out on the floor.”

Greek superstar center Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 16 points and eight rebounds in just over 15 minutes on the court and blended well with new teammate Lillard in the first game pairing of two of the NBA’s top five scorers from last season, each netting more than 31 points a game.

“I’ve been on the floor with them a decent amount over the last two weeks so I feel comfortable,” said Lillard of working with his new teammates.

“I think my game complements the guys really well so it has been seemless. It hasn’t been hard at all. Now it’s just a matter of being able to play other teams and getting used to each other and how we’re going to operate out there.”

‘Keep building’

The Lakers, playing without superstar LeBron James, were led by 16 points and seven rebounds from Anthony Davis.

Lillard was pleased that he was able to play a comfortable and familiar game despite new teammates and limited minutes.

“I made the same plays I always make,” he said. “I loosen up the defense. I make the right plays then I find my spots and I get aggressive in moments throughout the game. That’s what I did tonight.

“Shorter minutes. First game out here. I felt good. We’ll just keep building on that.”

It has helped that many of the Bucks’ offensive schemes were the same as Milwaukee assistant coach Terry Stotts used when he was the head coach at Portland from 2012-2021 when Lillard played for the Trail Blazers.

“A lot of what we do offensively is what I did with him for nine years so it has been pretty simple as far as that adjustment,” Lillard said.

Lillard said his goal in the run-up to the Bucks’ 2023-24 season opener on October 26 at home against Philadelphia is steady improvement.

“Just to keep building,” Lillard said. “I think it’s just one step at a time, enjoy the process and come in and just keep building and keep building throughout the season. That’s all we can control.”

Lillard and Antetokounmpo are building a chemistry that Milwaukee fans hope can produce a second NBA crown in four seasons.

“It has been very solid,” Lillard said of his bond with the Bucks’ big man. “It has been simple. I don’t think I have, and I don’t think he has either, gone into it overly trying to piece everything together.

“I think our personalities mesh well. Our styles of play mesh well. Everything else has just happened organically in time and we’ve got to allow that space to happen.”

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