ATLANTA — The Portland Trail Blazers held shootaround this morning at Phillips Arena in preparation for tonight’s game versus the Hawks in Atlanta (tipoff at 4:30 PM on CSNNW and 620 AM). Some notes …
— After missing the last seven games with a lower back contusion, Trail Blazers power forward will play and start in Thursday night’s game.
“It’s still not normal but hopefully by tonight I’ll be used to it,” said Aldridge. “I’ll be fine. We’ll see what happens tonight, how I run and how I look.”
Aldridge is not 100 percent (though few players are this time of year), but that he and the training staff have done everything thing they can do to get the injury right, so he feels the time is right to give it a go.
“I want to come back because I’ve been out for so long,” said Aldridge. “I didn’t think it was going to take this long but backs are a very sensitive area to injury. It’s taken longer, we’ve exhausted every treatment, every option to rehab it, so I’m just going to try it out.”
The specific issue is running, which Aldridge hasn’t done much of since taking a hard fall in a loss to the Spurs on March 12 in San Antonio. He played three-on-three yesterday for the first time since the injury and still experienced lingering pain when getting up and down, but he’s hopeful it will be manageable once he gets back in game situations.
“When you have discomfort you can’t really put a number on it,” said Aldridge when asked about how much he expects to play. “It’s about going out there and just seeing how it goes as it goes. Hopefully I feel great. Once I’m in the competitive atmosphere maybe I just forget about it.”
“I thought (Aldridge) looked good yesterday,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I think he got better as we played three-on-three and I thought, as the games went on, he looked more and more comfortable.”
While his main impetus for returning is feeling healthy enough to do so, Aldridge said that seeing the Trail Blazers struggle while teams behind them in the standings are surging did have an impact on his desire to play Thursday night.
“It’s just me wanted to play again,” said Aldridge. “We’ve got 10 games left and the way we are in the standings makes me want to come back faster, want to try to get things back on track. That has a part in it, but again, we’ve tried to treat my back every way possible, so it’s time to just see how it is.”
— Speaking of standings, despite having lost eight of their last 11 games, the Trail Blazers still remain in fifth place in the Western Conference, which has been mostly unchanged since the beginning of March. Their hold on the fifth seed is much more tenuous than it was a few weeks ago, so much so that they are now just two games from falling out of the playoffs completely, which has made scoreboard watching a more harrowing experience.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t (watching the standings),” said Aldridge. “I think everybody in here is watching the standings. Your moms is probably watching the standings and your grandma is probably watching the standings. I am … We’ve had some luck on our side and now it’s just time to get back on track.”
And while it’s certainly not a bad thing to pay attention to the standings, winning a significant number of their last 10 games would make the exercise much less nerve-wrecking.
“I watch,” said Lillard. “I watched the Memphis game last night. It’s not really about watching other people; I think we still control what we want to do. All we’ve got to do is handle our business and there’s not really anything anybody can do about that. Let’s win games. We focus on ourselves, we can make that happen.”
— The Trail Blazers are 3-4 since Aldridge has been injured, and while it’s not as if his return is going to solve all of the problems Portland has experienced recently, there’s no team in the NBA that wouldn’t play better without their best player on the court.
“I definitely had a chance to watch but it’s not the same if I’m not playing,” said Aldridge. “I’m not trying to be arrogant, but our offense just flows a little bit different when I’m out there. It’s hard to really assess it when I’m not playing. But I think everybody is definitely looking in the mirror right now, trying to figure out what they can do better.”
Aldridge’s ability to draw double teams and the calming effect he often times has on Portland’s offense will be welcomed from his teammates, but they also know that they need to change their mentality when it comes to playing all 48 minutes.
“Everything has been in spurts lately,” said Damian Lillard. “We have a good offensive stretch then a good defensive stretch with it and then we’ll get like a six or seven point lead. Then there will be a drop off and the other team will take a five point lead. Then we’ll cut it to two, then take a two-point lead instead of us just getting a team down by eight. They call that timeout and we don’t lock in and try to get the led to 15 and just hold them down. We’ve just been relaxing. Teams have been taking advantage of that.”