Turner's Return Imminent After Rejoining The Team In Atlanta

by Casey Holdahl
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ATLANTA -- The Portland Trail Blazers need to make a final push in the last 15 games of the regular season if they’re to make the playoffs for the fourth-straight year. Luckily for the Trail Blazers, a team currently 2.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, they’re about to be back at full strength for the first time in over a month.

After missing the last 14 games with a broken bone in his right hand, guard/forward Evan Turner has been cleared to return to full contact activity and is listed as probable for Saturday night’s game versus the Atlanta Hawks at Phillips Arena (tipoff scheduled for 3 pm CSNNW and 620 AM).

Turner did not travel with the team for the first three games of their current five-game road trip, though he did rejoin the team in Atlanta on Thursday and participated in a light practice Friday afternoon, his first since breaking the third metacarpal bone in his right hand during Portland’s 114-113 victory versus the Mavericks in Dallas on February 7. He’s still required to wear protection over his right hand for the time being, but while it might be somewhat annoying, it’s not going to keep him from playing.

“The hand didn’t hurt at all, obviously I’m playing with a strap and a little brace over it too,” said Turner after Friday’s practice in Atlanta. “Once again, these past few days it’s been trying to get back, get the grip of the ball, that’s the biggest thing. Obviously getting by body used to defensively, the sliding and everything. I stripped the ball a couple times with my right hand, made some moves, tried to work on the stuff I’ve been doing with my left hand as well.”

Playing with additional padding is going to take some getting used to, especially when one considers that Turner is right handed, though the only way to do that, especially at this stage in the season where practice time is scarce, is to get back into game action.

“Sometimes if I don’t pad it in like I want to the ball feels like if it hits my palm it’s going to spin,” said Turner. “And then these two fingers are taped together so it (takes) a little more focus, especially when I’m trying to make somewhat quick moves into my shot. It’ll be what it’s going to be, just going to keep playing until I get into a flow where I’m not thinking about it as much. It’s just all about getting my legs under me and just reacting.”

Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts stopped short of saying Turner would for sure play Saturday night versus the Hawks, though he did say, barring any kind of setback, that his return was “most likely.” He did, however, outright declined (as per usual, by the way) to say whether Turner would be reinserted into the starting lineup if and when he does return. And while there will be some rust that has to be shaken off whenever he plays after missing the last five weeks, Turner said he’s kept himself in good enough shape to where that shouldn’t be much of an issue.

“’I’ve been doing nothing but rehab,” said Turner. “Past two days I’ve been doing at least an hour on the court and every single day I’ve been doing sprints and stuff. I didn’t go naturally full-court but I did some pretty intense one-on-ones and stuff.”

After having a somewhat difficult start to his Trail Blazer career, Turner seemed to be finding his groove prior to the injury, which coincided with Stotts deciding to start the 6-6 guard/forward in his seventh season out of Ohio State alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. He is likely to come off the bench, at least initially, when he returns and has yet to play with Jusuf Nurkić, who the Trail Blazers acquired via trade from Denver after Turner’s injury, so picking right up where he left off might be too much to ask. But whatever he provides, even if it’s just spot minutes initially, will be a bonus for a team fighting for their playoff lives.

“I just play how I play,” said Turner. “How I play is how I play so at the end of the day the biggest thing is, I always say, try to guard the best I can, make the most out of my minutes when I’m on the court. And offensively it’s going to be distribute the ball, take the shots when I can and try to keep it as simple as possible.”