After Missing Nearly A Month, Aminu Returns To The Lineup Thursday Versus Bucks

by Casey Holdahl
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After sitting out the last 13 games with a sprained right ankle, Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu will return to the lineup in Thursday night’s game versus the Milwaukee Bucks at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Northwest and Rip City Radio 620 AM).

“It felt good to be back out there with the guys,” said Aminu after Wednesday’s practice in Tualatin. “Being able to contribute is always a good thing.”

The team gave a timeline of two to three weeks after Aminu badly sprained his ankle in the second half of Portland’s 112-103 overtime loss to the Jazz in Utah on November 1, which would have put the latest predicted time for his return during Portland’s now-completed five-game road trip. Aminu traveled with the team hoping that he’d be able to return to the court some time during the nine-day Eastern Conference swing, though that never came to fruition.

“I thought so but it wasn't feeling like I wanted it to feel,” said Aminu the plan to return during the last road trip. “Didn't want to rush it but that was my plan.”

But with two days off before the start of a four-game homestand, the 6-9 forward out of Wake Forest was able to get in his first practice since the injury, which was the final hurdle he had to clear before returning to game action. Aminu had gone through numerous solo workouts while the team was on the road, but had not been a full participant until Wednesday’s practice.

Though he started the first eight games of the season before the injury, Aminu said he expects to come off the bench in Thursday night’s game and will also be under a minutes restriction. Pat Connaughton, who has started the last three games, is expected to get the start again versus Milwaukee.

Even if it’ll take him a few games to get acclimated after the injury, Aminu’s return comes just in time for the Trail Blazers, as he’s their best option for defending Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 6-11 forward in his fifth season out of Greece is one of the frontrunners for Most Valuable Player with averages of 29.7 points on 56 percent shooting from the field, 10.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks in 37.3 minutes per game, so having everyone available to take turns defending the “Greek Freak” should improve Portland’s chances of evening the season series after losing 113-110 to the Bucks in their third game of the season.

“You just want to stay between him and the basket,” said Aminu, who is averaging 9.4 points and 8.1 rebounds in 30.1 minutes per game this season, of guarding Antetokounmpo. “It's easier said than done. He's a phenomenal athlete as well as player. You just try to make it difficult on him, limit his touches. The ball goes through him a lot so if a couple times, especially if he's within the three-point line, if you can kind of make them go away from him, the more the better. And then the shots that he do get you just want to have a lot of contests, make sure that everything is a hard bucket to get and make him work so that he wears down throughout the game.”

Even with Aminu out, the Trail Blazers have managed to remain one of the top defenses in the NBA so far this season. The Trail Blazers went 9-4 with Aminu sidelined, much better than they fared when he missed 21 games last season with various injuries, so the hope is that his return this time around helps turn what has already been a good defense into a great one.

“I think it's a testament to our guys, how committed they are to playing defense,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of his team’s defense this season. “Having Chief back should make us even better in that area.”