Saturday, July 2, 2022
July 2, 2022

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Lillard making strides in return to Blazers lineup

Portland guard could play in one of back-to-back games

By , Columbian Trail Blazers Writer

TUALATIN, Ore. — Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard is getting closer to a return, but just how soon won’t be known until sometime Sunday when they’re scheduled to face the Denver Nuggets in the Mile High City.

The two-time All-Star went through his first full practice Saturday at the Blazers practice facility, participating in all of the same drills his teammates did.

Lillard said that he also worked out hard on the foot in a New Year’s evening workout with assistant coach David Vanterpool and guard Tim Frazier.

“I’ve been working out hard on the court for a couple of days,” Lillard said. “Last night I came in and worked out hard on it. This is the second time I’ve practiced even though (this one had) more contact. It’s more about being on the floor. I haven’t played in almost two weeks now. I’m not just going to get out there a few times and bring something to the game.”

Lillard wants to make sure that when he comes back to the floor, that he’s still Damian Lillard.

With a back-to-back finishing Monday in Portland against Memphis, the possibility that he sits out is still there.

The team has listed Lillard on the injury report as questionable for Sunday and have Mason Plumlee listed as probable after the Blazers’ starting center missed Saturday’s practice with a bout of gastritis.

Lillard says he doesn’t anticipate having a minutes restriction upon his return, but he also admitted that the subject hasn’t come up yet.

As of right now, Lillard doesn’t sound like he’s still fully comfortable. Stiffness in the foot, after nearly two weeks of stretching and massages to get the foot right, and conditioning, more than soreness, are his main concerns.

“I’m building my wind back,” Lillard said. “It’s just a little bit of stiffness because I haven’t made certain movements. For five years now I’ve been constantly doing this stuff every day. But two weeks of just stretches, massages and stuff like that. If I get back there it’s going to be a little stiff.”

The Blazers have gone 3-3 in their last six games without Lillard. There have been several positives that came of that stretch, which the Blazers want to carry over.

Players and coaches have pointed to their blowout over the Cavaliers as a confidence boost.

Lillard mentioned the play of Allen Crabbe, Tim Frazier, Moe Harkless, Mason Plumlee and others. Stotts pointed to the team’s strong defense, particularly in their three wins.

But nobody has raised their game quite like Lillard’s backcourt mate CJ McCollum, who’s averaged 32 points over the last three games and 26.2 in the last five games without Lillard.

He’s also averaged six assists and six rebounds per game.

McCollum has averaged over 20 points per game this season, but this recent stretch has raised some eyebrows and perhaps earned himself a bigger part of opposing team’s scouting reports.

And if more attention is paid to McCollum, Lillard thinks there could be more openings for him once he returns.

“He was a huge part of why we won those three games,” Lillard said. “You know for him to have to carry a bigger load while I’m nursing the foot. Now he’ll get more attention and make the game easier for me also, so it was good to see.”

Stotts was happy that McCollum got a feel for the responsibility that Lillard has carried for the Blazers since his arrival in Portland.

“I think it’s been very positive for CJ,” Stotts said. “I think he had a better understanding of the responsibility that Dame has had as far as the last few years, having the ball in his hands, being responsible for all that.”

Columbian Trail Blazers Writer

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