Blazers happy to see Aldridge return to practice

Forward expected to be in action Saturday vs. Denver

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer

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TUALATIN, Ore. — The Blazers have been defending, they've been running and rolling over their last five games without LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Freeland, Meyers Leonard and recently Thomas Robinson.

Aldridge and Leonard returned to the practice court for the first time Friday since Feb. 18.

"It felt OK," Aldridge said. "I went through a full practice. I don't have any issues or anything."

Will Barton, who has been one of the minutes beneficiaries with all of the injuries and has played well, is happy to see the Blazers' All-Star back on the court.

"He looked like LaMarcus," said Barton who has long been vocal of his appreciation for Aldridge . "He looked like he hasn't missed a day."

Coach Terry Stotts said that Aldridge "looked good" and went through mostly everything during Friday's practice and the same goes for Leonard.

Joel Freeland and Thomas Robinson, on the other hand, did not practice. However, both players are taking a wait-and-see approach as to whether they will play Saturday against Denver.

"We are going to see how I feel in the morning and go from there," said Aldridge who has been ramping up activity for the last few days before practicing Friday.

"I'm not really sure. It's up to those guys over there," said Leonard gesturing over to some of Portland's trainers.

If the Blazers don't have those two Saturday, they will continue to play with a more wide-open and more frantic small-ball style.

Stotts says that they've moved the ball better on offense than they have in a while, but their defense has stood out.

The Blazers have been sticking to their normal pick-and-roll defensive scheme, but Stotts has had them throwing more double teams at post-ups in an attempt to create more havoc without their big men around to protect the rim.

"When you're undersized you kind of got to scramble and have a different mindset defensively," Stotts said. "The encouraging thing is the way we've played defensively the last three or four games."

Over the Blazers last four games, they've allowed 93.7 points per 100 possessions, better than the league-best Pacers defense.

The biggest change has been in forcing turnovers as the Blazers have forced them on 15.1 percent of their defensive possessions, slightly below the league average, but a major jump from their league-worst rate.

The Blazers, even with this recent bump, are still dead last in the league in defensive turnover percentage. However, Stotts did say that the Blazers newfound style will be something he has to look at whenever Aldridge and the rest of their big men come back

"We've been able to change our style and hopefully we're able to continue to grow with that," Stotts said.