Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard Targeting Sunday Return

Trail Blazers perennial All-Star Damian Lillard is targeting a Sunday return from a leg injury, Chris Haynes reported during TNT’s Tuesday broadcast of the Clippers-Blazers game (video link). Portland begins a four-game homestand against the Pacers that night.

Lillard was diagnosed on Nov. 20 with a Grade 1 strain to the soleus muscle in the right lower leg. He was injured the previous night against Utah.

Lillard, who is averaging 26.3 points and 7.0 assists per game this season, also missed four contests earlier this season due to a calf strain. He sat out a majority of last season due to a core muscle issue.

Thus far during Lillard’s latest absence, the Blazers have lost to Milwaukee, Cleveland and Brooklyn and defeated New York in overtime. All those contests were on the road.

Following the Clippers’ matchup, Portland head out on the road again to play the Lakers on Wednesday and Utah on Saturday.

Northwest Notes: Prince, Nuggets Injuries, Watson, Grant

Timberwolves forward Taurean Prince said he’s relieved that a grand jury in Texas did not charge him with possession of a controlled substance stemming from a May 19 arrest, according to Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“To me, I wasn’t in the wrong in the first place,” Prince said. “The situation that happened was very unfortunate. Things happen, for whatever reasons they happen. I’m past it now, though.”

Police in Arlington, Texas said after the arrest that they found guns and a vape pen with THC oil in Prince’s car when they stopped him for an expired registration. Possession of marijuana is illegal in Texas, and it also violates state law “to carry a gun while engaging in a criminal offense.”

Prosecutors also dropped the gun charges after the grand jury’s decision, according to a TMZ report.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Nuggets will likely be without several key players again when they host Detroit on Tuesday, Mike Singer of the Denver Post tweets. Jeff Green is out with a right knee contusion, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are doubtful due to health and safety protocols, while Aaron Gordon (non-COVID illness) and Ish Smith (right calf strain) are listed as questionable.
  • Rookie Peyton Watson has appeared in just five Nuggets games and is currently playing for their G League affiliate in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Watson, a late-first round pick, is trying to be patient while developing his skills, Singer writes in a separate story. “They know I want it right now and that I’m super, super motivated to take it,” Watson said. “You’ve got to wait your turn. We’re the No. 2 team in the West.”
  • Trail Blazers forward Jerami Grant learned during his first season with the Pistons what it was like being the top scorer for his team. He told current teammate Damian Lillard that he gained a greater appreciation for players with that status, Grant revealed on an interview with The Athletic’s Shams Charania (video link). “I told him I got a lot more respect for people who are the No. 1 option because it’s a lot more difficult than just putting up the numbers,” Grant said.

Lillard Has Strained Leg Muscle, Out At Least One Week

Trail Blazers star guard Damian Lillard has a Grade 1 strain to the soleus muscle in the right lower leg, according to a team press release.

An MRI taken Saturday night after the team’s game against Utah revealed the extent of the injury. Lillard will be re-evaluated in 1-2 weeks.

Lillard missed four games earlier this season due to a calf strain. He sat out a majority of last season due to a core muscle issue.

Lillard’s calf tightened up in the third quarter Saturday while taking a jump shot.

He’s averaging 26.3 points and 7.0 assists for Portland, which is off to a 10-6 start this season despite losing three of its last four games.

The Blazers’ backcourt has already been thinned by injuries to Gary Payton II and Keon Johnson. Rookie Shaedon Sharpe will have to shoulder a heavier load until Lillard returns.

Damian Lillard Expects To Miss Time With Calf Strain

11:27am: An MRI showed that Lillard’s injury is in a different area than his last calf strain, tweets Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report. The team will be careful with Lillard, and he will be given as much time as he needs to recover (Twitter link).

8:42am: Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard will likely be sidelined again after leaving Saturday’s game with a strained right calf, Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian writes in a subscriber-only story. It’s the second time this season that Lillard has suffered a calf strain, with the last occurrence forcing him to miss four games.

Lillard told reporters that the calf doesn’t feel as bad as it did when he hurt it on October 26, but he’s upset to be dealing with injuries again after missing most of last season with a core muscle issue.

“I sat for 10 months, basically,” he said. “I prepared myself to come back and be out there. I might have missed two games in my career one time for having a calf injury. And now, just having to deal with this is frustrating. Especially with the start that we’ve had.”

Lillard tweaked the calf in the third quarter of Saturday’s loss to Utah while taking a jump shot in the third quarter. He felt the calf tighten as he ran back on defense and removed himself from the game as a precaution. He said he might have continued playing if the game had been more meaningful, which Fentress notes that he also said the last time he hurt his calf.

“I didn’t want to make it worse and then be in the same situation that I was before,” Lillard said.

Lillard had hoped to go back into the game, but team trainers advised against it after examining him. The Trail Blazers have been careful with their star guard since he returned to the lineup on November 7, Fentress adds. Lillard played again on November 9, but was held out the next night to reduce the risk of reaggravating the injury.

“I’ve got to respect what they say and I also can’t be a fool and fight my way through everything and hurt myself worse,” Lillard said. “It’s a hard thing to do because that’s not what I want to do. I’m always going to try to play. But once it’s done, there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Lillard underwent an MRI Saturday night and there’s no indication from the Blazers how long he might be out of action. Portland will start a four-game road trip Monday in Milwaukee.

Damian Lillard To Return Monday For Trail Blazers

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (right calf strain) is officially listed as questionable for Monday’s matchup at Miami, but league sources tell Chris Haynes of TNT (Twitter link) that the veteran star will return tonight after a four-game absence.

Lillard suffered the injury on October 26 in a loss to the Heat, so it’s fitting that he’ll make his return against them tonight. The team previously announced that he would be reevaluated in one-to-two weeks, and Monday is 12 days removed from the injury date, so he’s right on target.

An iron man for much of his NBA career, Lillard missed more than nine games in a season for the first time in 2021/22 when he underwent abdominal surgery, which limited him to 29 games. He’d gotten off to a terrific start in ’22/23 prior to sustaining the calf strain, averaging 31.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists on .495/.392/.929 shooting in five games (35.0 minutes per night).

In addition to Lillard, fellow starting guard Anfernee Simons – who re-signed with Portland on a four-year, $100MM contract over the summer – has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable against the Heat with left foot soreness. He has missed the past two games with the injury.

The Trail Blazers are currently 6-3 through nine games, including handing the top-seeded Suns their only two losses.

Damian Lillard Listed As Questionable To Play Monday

Damian Lillard could make a swift return from his right calf strain. The Trail Blazers star guard is listed as questionable for Monday’s game against Miami, the team’s PR department tweets.

Lillard suffered a calf strain while playing against the Heat on Oct. 26. At the time, Lillard was reportedly going to be reevaluated in one-to-two weeks.

He has missed the last four games and Portland has gone 2-2 during that stretch. During the first five games this season, Lillard averaged 31.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists per night.

Until last season, Lillard had never missed more than nine games in a season. He appeared in only 29 games in 2021/22 before he underwent abdominal surgery.

If Lillard returns on Monday, it will come at an opportune time. Gary Payton II continues to be listed as out due to reconditioning, while Anfernee Simons is considered doubtful due to left foot inflammation.

Northwest Notes: Nowell, Reid, MPJ, Billups, Jazz

After Shams Charania of The Athletic reported earlier this week that the Timberwolves have engaged in talks with center Naz Reid and guard Jaylen Nowell about possible contract extensions, Keith Smith of Spotrac decided to examine what extensions for the two 23-year-olds might look like.

As our Luke Adams wrote on Monday, veteran extensions for players on minimum-salary contracts like Reid and Nowell can begin at 120% of this season’s estimated average salary of $10,792,000, so 120% of that amount is $12,950,400. Therefore, a maximum four-year extension that includes 8% raises would be worth about $58MM.

It would behoove Nowell to wait until unrestricted free agency next summer rather than sign an extension, according to Smith, who believes Nowell could receive $15-20MM in annual average salary on a new contract if he has a breakout fourth season, as several teams are expected to have a significant amount of cap room in 2023 (it’s worth noting that Charania reported that Nowell was likely to opt for unrestricted free agency). Smith compares Nowell’s situation to Jalen Brunson‘s, who wound up signing a four-year, $104MM contract with the Knicks in free agency after a big season with Dallas in ’21/22.

As for Reid, Smith thinks a three-year, $22MM descending contract makes sense for the Wolves and Reid, comparing it to the three-year, $18.5MM extension Dean Wade received from the Cavaliers. Since Minnesota will be over the salary cap for the next handful of years, Smith says the Wolves should aggressively pursue extensions for both Nowell and Reid.

Here’s more from the Northwest:

  • Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. explained what happened when he suffered a back spasm during Monday’s game vs. Portland, which caused him to miss Wednesday’s game against the Lakers, per Mike Singer of The Denver Post (subscription required). “I couldn’t really move the same as I wanted to in the second half, so that’s when we were just like, ‘Let’s just calm it down for a couple of days,’” Porter said on Friday. “But it was just a little tweak in a muscle. It wasn’t anything related to a prior injury.” Despite the minor setback, Porter says he still expects to play the “vast majority” of Denver’s games in ’22/23 after appearing in just nine contests last season after undergoing a third back surgery.
  • Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups says that Damian Lillard missing most of last season after undergoing core muscle surgery forced Portland to acknowledge that the team around the star guard wasn’t good enough. The Blazers revamped their roster over the past year, adding Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, Gary Payton II, Justise Winslow and No. 7 overall pick Shaedon Sharpe, among others. “He’s the guy,” Billups told Sam Amick of The Athletic. “He’s our guy. We’re always gonna play through him. But we want to be good enough that when he goes 5-for-18 (from the field), that we can win a game. They’ve never been able to do that, you know what I’m saying? So it gives him confidence to know that (he doesn’t) have to be the best player in the league every night.” Lillard is currently sidelined with a right calf strain and will be reevaluated in one-to-two weeks, though he said he didn’t think the injury was serious.
  • The Jazz have gotten off to a surprising 4-1 start, but the “general consensus around the league” is that opposing teams will take them more seriously going forward, writes Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. Head coach Will Hardy is telling his players to keep proving people wrong. “He’s tired of looking at media or even his friends telling him, ‘Wow, you guys are winning, this is crazy,’” Malik Beasley said of Hardy’s message. “It’s not crazy. We’re not even playing well and we’re still winning.”

Damian Lillard Strains Calf, To Be Reevaluated In 1-2 Weeks

4:32pm: According to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link), Lillard will have his calf injury reevaluated in one-to-two weeks, so it sounds as though he’ll miss Friday’s game against Houston and next Wednesday’s game against Memphis at minimum.

The Blazers put out an official press statement confirming the injury and the timeline reported by Charania.

7:58am: Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard left Wednesday’s loss to Miami in the third quarter after straining his right calf and didn’t return. However, he doesn’t view the injury as a serious one and didn’t undergo an MRI, according to Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian.

“Honestly, if this was a playoff game, I would have played,” Lillard said, per Jason Quick of The Athletic. “(The calf) would have been tight and uncomfortable, but I would have played. If that gives you any indication of how concerned I am now or would have been … I feel if it would have been on the line, I would have played.”

An iron man for much of his NBA career, Lillard missed more than nine games in a season for the first time in 2021/22 when he underwent abdominal surgery. That experience has altered the way he approaches nagging injuries, especially those that come early in the season, Quick writes.

“My perspective has changed, and I want to be in it for the duration, for the long haul of the season,” Lillard said. “It’s early. We’ve gotten off to a good start, things feel good, and I haven’t felt this good since my second or third year. Everything I did this summer is adding up: I feel fast, I feel strong, I don’t get tired, and I don’t want to lose that. So I have to be patient, and I can’t get ahead of myself.”

Lillard told reporters that he’ll likely end up missing Friday’s game vs. Houston, but it doesn’t sound like he expects his absence to extend much – if at all – beyond that. His absence will give young players like Keon Johnson and Shaedon Sharpe the opportunity to play increased roles for the 4-1 Blazers, as Quick observes.

“We have a lot of guys on this team who are capable,” Lillard said. “Sometimes you don’t play for a little bit and you are on the bench and you don’t know when your time is going to come, and it’s just a lesson to be prepared.”

Northwest Notes: Timberwolves, Gobert, Towns, Simons, Lillard

The star-studded Timberwolves have stumbled out of the gate to begin the 2022/23 NBA season, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. The 2-2 Wolves have now dropped games against the Jazz and Spurs in what had been projected as a fairly easy opening stretch for a team that reshaped its roster by adding former Utah All-Star center Rudy Gobert in a blockbuster deal this summer.

Krawczynski observes that, in the Wolves’ third home game of the year against San Antonio, they looked particularly listless defensively, star shooting guard Anthony Edwards appeared disengaged on offense, Gobert struggled to hold onto rebounds, and the club was playing through boos from the Target Center crowd in Minneapolis. Gobert posited after the game that the club needed to improve its communication on the floor.

“It doesn’t take much energy to talk,” Gobert offered. “You just gotta want to do it. We’re not there yet. Hopefully, you know, we’re gonna get there soon, and we’re gonna learn.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • One big issue for the Timberwolves‘ new jumbo-sized starting lineup has been its transition defense, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Starting two nominal centers in the frontcourt, Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, could be part of the trouble. Hines notes that the team is permitting opposing clubs to score 21 fast-break points per game, which is the worst such average in the NBA. “We have to understand what our flaws are and how we have to cover them,” head coach Chris Finch acknowledged. “Such as, we may not be the fastest of foot from end line to end line, but we’ve got to make a better effort.” 
  • A huge sharpshooting night for Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons on Monday serves as an indicator that Portland’s hot 4-0 start to the 2022/23 season has nearly as much to do with the newly-revamped club’s role players as it does with the constant brilliance of point guard Damian Lillard, opines Jason Quick of The Athletic. Simons connected on his first eight straight shots, which included six triples, to help Portland blow out the Nuggets 135-110.
  • Lillard has been a big part of the team’s undefeated start. As such, the Trail Blazers guard has taken an early leap in the NBA’s MVP race, per Cole Huff of The Athletic. His odds have risen from +6600 to +2500.

Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum Named Players Of The Week

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard and Celtics forward Jayson Tatum are the NBA’s first Players of the Week of the 2022/23 season, having won the awards in the Western and Eastern Conferences, respectively, the league announced today (via Twitter).

Lillard led Portland to an impressive – and unexpected – 3-0 week to open the season, averaging 34.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 4.3 APG on .471/.364/.929 shooting in victories over the Kings, Suns, and Lakers. He scored 41 points in each of the latter two wins.

Tatum’s Celtics also opened the season with three consecutive wins, having defeated the Sixers, Heat, and Magic. Tatum was the team’s leading scorer in all three games, averaging 34.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, and 3.0 APG on .587/.333/.880 shooting. The All-NBA forward had his first 40-point game of the season on Saturday night in Orlando.

According to the NBA (Twitter links), Devin Booker, Stephen Curry, De’Aaron Fox, Nikola Jokic, Lauri Markkanen, CJ McCollum, Zion Williamson, and Ja Morant were the other nominees for Player of the Week in the West, while Giannis Antetokounmpo, Paolo Banchero, Donovan Mitchell, and Pascal Siakam were nominated in the East.