Lillard: 'As Far As I Know, I'm Playing' Versus Sixers

by Casey Holdahl
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The Portland Trail Blazers, after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 95-92 Saturday night at Staples Center, had four days off before playing their next game, a nationally-televised tilt versus the Philadelphia 76ers at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on TNT and Rip City Radio 620 AM). The break gave the players and coaches an opportunity to take a few days off, and over the Christmas holiday no less, something that happens infrequently throughout the course of an 82-game NBA season.

“It was great,” said Damian Lillard of the extended layoff. “I got a few nice gifts but the best thing was I got to go home and spend time with my family, which I haven’t been able to do the last few years, so that was good.”

While spending time in Oakland with his extended family might have been what he most appreciated about the break, Lillard having four extra days for rehabilitate his strained right hamstring is probably what fans in Rip City are more thankful for. After sitting out practices and the last two games with the injury, which he suffered in the third quarter of Portland’s 93-91 loss to the Spurs on December 20, Lillard returned to practice on Wednesday.

“It felt pretty good, I practiced today,” said Lillard at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin. “I think it’s just to that point where it’s that little bit of soreness just from inactivity coming off of an injury. It felt pretty good.”

Lillard went through a solo workout on Tuesday before joining the team at Wednesday’s practice, though he was limited in what he was allowed to do according to head coach Terry Stotts despite not being listed on the injury report. The 6-3 guard out of Weber State did say that he experienced some soreness during Wednesday’s practice, though he chalked that up to the standard aches and pains that come with returning to the court after a week of relative inactivity.

“I was in practice from the start,” said Lillard. “No different than any other time where I’ve had a little bit of an injury. Came back, there was a little bit of soreness. You kind of baby it a little bit and then as practice goes on you just get into it. I chased guys off pindowns, I did all that stuff.”

Both Stotts and Lillard were less than emphatic regarding whether Lillard would play Thursday night versus the 76ers, though one did get the impression that, barring some kind of setback, he would return to the lineup in Portland’s last home game before a three-game Eastern Conference road trip. Always reluctant to miss games, even with injuries that would keep many players in street clothes, Lillard noted that he needed to be a bit more careful than usual about his return lest he miss even more time.

“I’ve had worse things but at this point it’s just about being smart,” said Lillard. “A hamstring is different than an ankle or anything else. I want to be smart. I already sat out two games, I felt like that made sense. I didn’t want to try and be tough and all of that stuff and not allow it to heal.”

After eight days off, that healing seems to have occurred. He’ll likely be reevaluated after the team’s shootaround Thursday morning in order to make sure the injury didn’t worsen after going through most of Wednesday’s practice, though to head Lillard tell it, he’ll be on the court come tipoff on TNT.

Said Lillard: “I definitely plan on playing tomorrow… As far as I know, I’m playing.”