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.”
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is currently holding his annual youth basketball camp in Beaverton, and unlike some of these events put on by other players, Lillard is there actually there working with the kids every day. If you send your child to the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp, he or she is going to meet Damian Lillard.
But even though the focus is on the kids, Lillard took a few minutes to take questions from the media about the camp, his recent trip to Asia, working with Special Olympics, the upcoming free agent signing period on his involvement with recruiting and why he declined to to play for Team USA.
Regarding the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp experience…
“When I get up there and speak, I tell them ‘Make sure you thank your parents, make sure you listen to the coaches, follow their instructions, be coachable, work hard.’ Just simple things like that, a lot of basic things that could teach them a lot more than how simple it is, things like that. Just being here and having a presence is the biggest thing. The session that you guys just watched, it’s something that I’ve enjoyed because it allows me to kind of break apart the game for the kids. For them it might be a little bit boring, but it’s 10 minutes of the day where they get to listen and see what’s going on, that it’s deeper than just a pass and a shot. Some of them are probably too young to follow it as well as the older ones, but I think it’s something that you can really teach them at a young age.”
On his relationship with Special Olympics…
“When I was 17, when I first got on campus at Weber State, it was a mandatory thing, we did a one day camp with Special Olympics. The first day I kind of just went in there, I didn’t really know much about it. But then I saw that some of them, they wanted to play against us and they could actually play. They had as much passion with the game as I did, they really enjoyed our company. I’ll never forget, it was a random day like months after the Special Olympics event and there was a kid — I’ll never forget his name — Jason Depper. I was at the mall and he walked up to me at the mall like ‘Remember I made that shot on you?’ and I was just like ‘That’s funny.’ It had that type of impact on him. I’ve been involved ever since.”
On his recent trip through Asia with adidas…
“It was fun, did some pop-ups at stores. I went to some 3-on-3 tournaments, watched a lot of kids play. They’re playing so they can all make it to Beijing and it’s like a super tournament over there right now. I did some promotion for my shoes and things like that, I went back to a store that I opened up after my rookie year in Taipei, I went back to Manila. We did a huge event there, I got to get in the three-point shootout, they let me perform a couple times over there. It was kind of on the spot performances, but I had a lot of fun.”
Why he decided not to be a part of the 2016 Olympic team…
“It was simple: the last three months of the season I played with plantar fasciitis and it really bothered me. There was days the games seemed like the only time I could play, and that was adrenaline and two hours of treatment before the game. I didn’t want to go into next season dealing with it. I actually really wanted to play and I was really close to saying ‘Just forget it, I’m going to go’ but I didn’t want to go to Rio and come back a month before training camp and my foot still be bothering me, then I can’t give what I want to give to my team. That was just more important to me.”
On free agency…
“I think there’s some guys out there that can really help take our team to the next level. I really like the guys we have, too. I’m a strong believer that if guys go home and get better over the summer, we come back, we’ll be that much better. We’ll continue to get better. But my job is to make sure that I’m prepared and when I’m asked about a player that can help us, I’m going to give my honest opinion. That’s my duty to our team.”
His thoughts on Portland’s free agency plan…
“I’m excited, because it’s not hard to see… Our whole roster could look at free agency and say ‘This guy could help us, this guy could help us.’ It’s just a matter of how bad they want to be here, what we have to offer compared to what they would like. We’ll see where it goes. I have no doubt that our team is going to be ready regardless of who we bring in, who we don’t bring in. We’ll come back ready.”
Whether he’s going to help recruit free agents in person…
“Maybe. Maaaaaaybe… I might. To help our team, of course.”
Greetings fans of NBA offseason news. With the 2106 Draft now completed and the free agent moratorium less than 48 away, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
This week, Trail Blazers power forward Meyers Leonard joins the show to discuss his travels around Oregon this offseason, rehabbing from the shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his 2015-16 season, “sprint mechanics” and his upcoming restricted free agency. As for the rest of the show, we briefly recap Portland’s draft night, which netted the team Maryland forward Jake Layman, discuss what we know about the negotiations regarding the team’s television rights and discuss the unpredictability that is free agency.
The relationship between Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver predates both of their current occupations. When the two first sat down for a interview back in 2010, McCollum had not yet been drafted by the Trail Blazers with the 10th overall pick of the 2012 Draft (though that would happen later that night) and Silver, while already tabbed to take over for outgoing commissioner David Stern, was still pulling duty as deputy commissioner.
Every year since then, McCollum and Silver have met up in New York City after the end of the season to discuss topics pertaining to the NBA and society in general. In 2014, they discussed the situation with the previous Los Angeles Clippers ownership, the age limit, emerging technologies, Silver’s first year as the NBA’s head honcho and their favorite Jay-Z tracks. In 2015, McCollum, armed with a few seasons of experience and a new job at The Players’ Tribune, followed up on some of the questions from the year before regarding the age limit while also bringing up issues such as ads on jerseys, transparency in officiating and head injuries.
And in their fourth annual interview, released on The Players’ Tribune as a part of McCollum’s summer internship with the athlete-owned website, the two discuss how far they’ve come (or in CJ’s case, how much weight he’s lost) since their first meeting in 2012, Silver’s handshakes, whether the NBA would have their All-Star Weekend at “remote locations” like the NFL, whether the league is considering moving the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, the 2016 NBA Finals and the suspension of Draymond Green and recent efforts to increase diversity in NBA front offices. You can watch an excerpt of the interview in the above video, or read the entire Q&A over at The Players’ Tribune.