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Blazers hope Freeland can return soon, provide spark

Reserve center 'did everything' in practice Saturday

The Columbian
Published: April 12, 2014, 5:00pm

TUALATIN, Ore. — The impending return of British big man Joel Freeland has become a bigger storyline as the Trail Blazers approach the postseason.

Freeland was key to the Blazers’ hot start, providing stability behind Robin Lopez at the center position.

Freeland went through full-contact 4-on-4 during the portion of practice open to the media and said he “did everything” on Saturday.

“I’m not where I was at, but I’m feeling a lot better than I thought I would,” Freeland said about his conditioning. “I’m getting up and down, and I’m not getting as tight as I thought I would get. I got a little winded at the end.”

As far as whether he will play Sunday, he and the team’s medical staff is taking a day-by-day approach.

“We’ll see how it feels tomorrow,” Freeland said. “I still have to clear it with all of the doctors and everything first and I have to clear it with Chris (Stackpole, Director of Player Health and Performance). Ultimately it’s his decision at the end of the day. We’ll see tomorrow.”

Damian Lillard says Freeland’s return would not only be good from a basketball standpoint but for the team’s morale as well.

“That would be cool,” Lillard said. “A guy that works as hard as he does and has to go through injury like that. If we can get him on the floor that would make our team a better team and everybody be happy to see him back out there.

A win for the Blazers would guarantee that they finish no lower than the fifth seed as well as keep hope alive that they can pass the Houston Rockets and have home court in the first round.

Will it have a playoff feel?

“It should,” Lillard said. “It’s a meaningful game, so it’s not like one of the last games of the season. It’s pretty much the game for fifth.”

Wesley Matthews has billed the match-up against the Warriors as the biggest game of the year, and Lillard says that there’s not much more to study because they know what to expect.

“We’re really familiar with their team. It’s going to come down to us playing well and getting it done,” Lillard said.

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In the last meeting, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson took over in the fourth quarter leading them to a one-point victory at the Moda Center.

“Control those two crazy guys,” said Nicolas Batum when asked about the key to playing against Golden State. “Easy to say, tough to do.”

The Warriors — mainly center Andrew Bogut — makes a habit of getting under people’s skin. He instigated a fight between the two teams in November, but Lillard understands it’s part of his game, rather than letting it rattle him.

“There was a scuffle in Oakland the first time off of something he did. Against the Clippers a few games later he had the same situation. That’s who he is,” Lillard said. “He’s one of those guys that’s physical, might throw an elbow every now and then, have something to say. If that’s what he brings to their team that’s made them a playoff team then you can’t be mad at it.”