TUALATIN, Ore. — After missing the last four games and possibly more, Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has a new nickname.
“Coach Lillard, that’s what they call me now,” Lillard said following Tuesday’s practice where the two-time All-Star said he participated in some “live” drills but was still not a full participant.
Whether Lillard has to embrace the suit and chatting up referees during timeouts instead of throughout the entire game is still an uncertain matter. The pain from an ongoing battle with plantar fasciitis is gone in his left foot, but Lillard is still waiting for the comfort to return.
“It’s just a little bit stiff,” Lillard said after running on the left foot. “I haven’t played on it. I have been so busy trying to take care of it and do the right stuff that it’s a little bit stiff.”
The Blazers’ All-Star guard is trying to make an impact on the game and help his teammates.
What does Coach Lillard bring to the bench?
“He’s doing a good job of being engaged, overly engaged,” CJ McCollum said. “He’s been breaking down the film. When I come out of the game I ask ‘Dame, what you see?’ And I think he’s helping me a lot.”
His pointers aren’t just saved for the players filling his position either.
“When he sits and observes, he’s not just sitting there for fun,” Meyers Leonard said. “He’s picking things apart. He’ll tell me ‘you could have rolled there a little more instead of pop.’ Or ‘try to block some more shots.’ Different things to point out to guys. (Guard Tim Frazier) goes over to Dame because he obviously knows that Dame sees what he can do better and see the things he’s doing well.”
Head coach Terry Stotts said that he hasn’t seen many star players maintain their leadership at a high level when they’ve been saddled by injury.
“I’ve been around a lot of very good players who led while they were suited up but when they weren’t they took a step back,” Stotts said.
Stotts was asked if he would be open to if he would be open to letting Lillard draw up a play, but he wouldn’t be the first player to pitch a play to their coach.
“Chris (Kaman) put in a play a couple of weeks ago. I’m open to anything that will work,” he said.
“It’s kinda fun,” Lillard said. “You can impact the team without doing it physically. Seeing one thing and saying this is how they’re guarding you because it’s hard to see some things on the floor.”
After Portland’s last two wins including McCollum’s masterful performance of 35 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists Sunday against Sacramento, the Blazers are giving Lillard an opportunity to be patient.
“The more we win, the more we can be careful with my foot,” Lillard said. “I’m working to try and be back.”
While talking about the team’s prospects, Lillard brought up the prospect of making the playoffs.
Potential Western Conference playoff teams such as Utah and Phoenix have been hit by a rash of injuries, which has left the door wide open for teams in the West.
Leonard was asked if the playoffs were a goal for the team and his immediate answer gave a clue that he may be watching it more than he wants to lead on.
“Winning two in a row, we jumped four spots,” he said.
The Blazers are rolling with the punches while their best player is slowly coming back to form.
But even without their All-Star in the lineup, the Blazers’ belief in themselves may be just as strong than it has been all season.