Leonard Cleared For Full Practice, Expected To Play Versus Lakers

by Casey Holdahl
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For most teams, simply getting through training camp and preseason without any significant injuries is considered a win. But for the Trail Blazers, the run up to the start of the regular season has also been about getting injured players back on the court.

And on Saturday, Portland moved one step closer to that goal, as power forward/center Meyers Leonard was cleared for all activities exactly six months after undergoing surgery on repair the labrum in his left shoulder.

“I felt good out there,” said Leonard of his first unencumbered practice since dislocating his shoulder back in March. “That’s my first time playing live five-on-five obviously, so getting the conditioning back like I mentioned before is going to be key for me. But overall I felt pretty good, felt confident on the offensive end, defensive end, playing at the rim, rebounding the ball. Progressing as time goes on.”

Leonard has been ahead of schedule on his rehabilitation, which allowed him to participate in most basketball activities for the last few weeks. But the 7-1 big out of Illinois was held out of five-on-five runs as a precaution until he was at least six months removed for the surgery which prematurely ended his 2015-16 season.

“When I got done with my appointment in L.A. and (Dr. ElAttrache) said it would be October 8, I was excited because it wasn’t far away,” said Leonard. “It’s been awesome to be back there (playing) three-on-three, four-on-four but there’s nothing quite like being out there and running live. It was a good day for me.”

While Leonard is already in good shape thanks to a rigorous training regiment both on the court and in the weight room, he readily admits that it’s going to take some time to get back into game shape.

“You can’t do sprints, you can’t play three-on-three, you can’t play one-on-one at a basket, none of that works,” said Leonard of getting into game shape. “You can run and swim, do whatever you want, but until you’re guarding a pick and roll, grabbing a rebound, outlet it, run the floor, shooting the three, trying to go up for an offensive rebound, running back, getting smashed on a transition play, there’s nothing like it.”

Though he won’t have to wait long to find out how far he’s come in terms of building up his stamina and endurance, as Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts says he is planning on Leonard being available to play in their next preseason game versus the Lakers at Staples Center on October 11.

With Leonard’s return and after both Noah Vonleh and Jake Layman returned to full action in Portland’s 115-110 victory versus the Suns on Friday night, only center Festus Ezeli remains sidelined after receiving an injection in his left knee in late August.