PORTLAND — Late Saturday morning, the Portland Trail Blazers sent the tweet that shocked the basketball world in which they revealed forward LaMarcus Aldridge would indefinitely put off surgery on his left thumb.
On a rare sunny and warm January day in Portland, the Blazers were brimming with optimism.
As point guard Damian Lillard gleefully entered the locker room prior to Saturday’s game against the Washington Wizards, he and Aldridge met in the doorway.
“It’s good to see you, man,” he told Aldridge.
A few hours before he had first heard the news at the Blazers shoot around, he saw Aldridge on the court, mentioned it to someone in the practice facility and then heard the news.
“I was like ‘I don’t think he’s supposed to be doing that,’ ” Lillard said. “I mean when he came off the court he came into the locker room and I was clapping. I’m happy you are playing. We laughed it off.”
It was a stark contrast from the doom and gloom mood that permeated the locker room 48 hours earlier. It was in those 48 hours that everything changed for Aldridge and the Blazers.
After getting mobility back in the thumb as the swelling from the torn radial collateral ligament subsided, Aldridge started testing his left hand with a brace late Friday night. Then on Saturday morning he worked out again and did full court one-on-one with assistant coach Nate Tibbetts.
“I think my pain level changed over the last 48 hours as far as being able to tolerate some things,” Aldridge said. “We’ll give it a try. We don’t know if it’s good or bad just that I’m going to try.”
Aldridge got the blessing from the Blazers team doctors and another outside opinion to try to play through the injury but it was ultimately his decision.
“I had a lot of blood in there and I think all that’s flushed out,” Aldridge said. “They’re looking at it differently now because I actually can move it. I can use it more now.”
Blazers director of player health and performance Chris Stackpole told Stotts the news about 15 minutes following the Blazers morning shoot around. Most of his teammates found out the news through Twitter or on their phones.
For now, Aldridge hopes to play through the injury and hold off surgery until the offseason.
“My idea now is to play for the rest of the season,” Aldridge said. “If it gets too much where I can’t handle it or not playing at a very good level I’ll stop. Hopefully it goes well for us.”
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said he was surprised initially but also said the decision is reflective of what he’s come to know about Aldridge.
“You know it doesn’t surprise me knowing LaMarcus,” Stotts said. “I think he wanted to play. He knows we’ve got a good season going and he wants to be a part of it and help the team. We’ve struggled the last two games without him. In that respect it didn’t surprise me.”
The Blazers need any help they can get on the injury front.
Nicolas Batum missed Saturday’s game with a nagging wrist injury that got worse, and he’s being forced to sleep with a brace on it. Joel Freeland hasn’t even picked up a basketball since injuring his right shoulder Jan. 3 and doesn’t expect to play on the upcoming road trip. And Robin Lopez’s return may not come until after the All-Star break.
“I couldn’t sit here and tell you how big it is just for him to be out there,” Lillard said. “You know 60 percent, 70 percent of LaMarcus Aldridge is better than no LaMarcus at all.”