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BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Trail Blazers guard says he had to work hard to make his 2018 All-Star Game berth happen, though

TRIBUNE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR - Damian Lillard says he'll approach his third trip to the NBA All-Star Game with a different mind-set than when he participated during his second and third pro seasons.The first two times Damian Lillard was an All-Star — in 2014 and '15, his second and third seasons in the NBA — it almost came too easily.

This time, it was almost too hard.

"I had to make this one happen," Lillard said Wednesday night before the Trail Blazers' game with Minnesota at Moda Center. "The last two years, I felt like I should have made it, but I didn't.

"I just had to keep on playing and stay positive. I put myself in a position where it was almost a no-brainer."

Well, not really.

A maximum of six guards could make it from the Western Conference for the Feb. 18 game at Staples Center in Los Angeles, including starters Stephen Curry of Golden State and James Harden of Houston. Named as reserves by the West coaches were Lillard, Klay Thompson of Golden State, Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City and Jimmy Butler of Minnesota. Left off were Houston's Chris Paul and Lou Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers, among others.

It has been a good week for Lillard, who on Monday was named Western Conference Player of the Week.

"It's an honor to be in a game with the top players in the league," Lillard said. "For me, it feels like I've had to earn this one for three years. I'm really appreciative of it.

"A lot of it is due to our team's success. If we had been at this point (with a 25-22 record) the last two years, I'd probably have two more (All-Star selections)."

Coach Terry Stotts spoke for the Blazers' coaches and players when he said, "I'm really proud and happy that (Lillard) made the team. We all felt he was deserving. He earned it. It was a good day in Blazerville."

Was it a big deal to Lillard to make the All-Star Game this season?

"It is," he said. "Going my second and third years, I was really excited to be there to get the experience. Then going two years not getting there, I just wanted to get back, because I felt like it was something they didn't want to give me. It was something I had to chase."

How does making the All-Star Game this time compare to the other two?

"This one is a little bit different," said Lillard, 27 and in his sixth NBA season. "I'm on a different team, playing a different role. This time, I had to go get it.

"But the first one is also special. I was there with guys like Kobe (Bryant) and Tim Duncan and those guys. That was a pretty cool experience. They've all been special."

Lillard played a minimal role in each of his first two All-Star appearances. Will he look to have a greater impact this time?

"You don't control how much time you get on the floor," he said, "but my attitude and my vibe will be different than the first two times. I'm much older now. Before, I was there with vets and people I had all this respect for. I knew my time would be limited. It still might, but I'm just in a different place mentally. We'll see."

A new format will have captains Curry of the West and LeBron James of the East choose teammates through a player draft.

"Every year, they try something new to switch it up and keep it fresh," Lillard said. "I think it's a good idea. It would have been a good idea to put (the player draft) on TV."

Lillard was asked about a comment made by Westbrook, who was unhappy OKC teammate Paul George was left off the West team. Westbrook mentioned getting "four people" from one team onto the West team (a dig at Golden State) and that players are "talking about getting snubbed until they get in."

The latter reference was to Lillard.

"I respect Russ a lot," Lillard said diplomatically. "That was disappointing to see him say that. He has played against me and knows what I've accomplished — not just this year, but over my career.

"It was a little disappointing, but I know I earned my spot this year."

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