Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has been one of the NBA’s most enduring players through the modern era. Prior to his abdominal surgery last January, the six-time All Star had never missed more than nine games in a season, adapting to every game in his first three campaigns.
But the seasoned veteran turned 32 in July and, although he appears to have rediscovered the burst he had before the abdominal injury, he was sidelined with a calf complaint over the course of last 10 days.
I have no doubt the Blazer fandom had its collective heart in their mouths when Lillard limped off the field during the third quarter of Moda Center’s Oct. 26 loss to the Miami Heat.
Luckily for Lillard and all of us it was classed as a minor strain, with the Blazers frontman later saying he probably would have returned to the field if it was a playoff game and not Game 6 of the regular season.
“It wasn’t nothing that worried me too much, I just knew it wouldn’t make sense to move on to Game 5 of the season.”
“Honestly if it was a playoff game I would have played, it would have been tight and uncomfortable but I would have played.”
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Lillard didn’t realize the severity of the injury during his post-match media scrum, but maybe, just maybe, the star point guard did. accepted the fact that his body might not be as resilient as it once was. And, if the Blazers are committed to not only winning, but also making the playoffs, he may have to rest where he can.
In the Terry Stotts era, the response to questions about Lillard’s lightening of the load was to give him more days off around games. This was no doubt to ensure the series of mediocre teams, after LaMarcus Aldridge, a chance to qualify for the playoffs.
And physically, it probably worked well for Lillard in his 20s. But as the years go by, combined with the accumulation of a decade of NBA-level bumps, bruises and worries, it’s pretty obvious that Lillard could use a little more upkeep and downtime. stoppage through the rigors of an 82-game NBA season.
Play by injury
Part of the reason Lillard has developed his popular persona is his determination to play through injuries. As we all know by now, the Portland star has pulled off what has become an escalating abdominal program over the past four years. Probably something he should have taken care of sooner, but I will never judge Damian Lillard’s judgment, even though he forced him to go under the knife mid-season in January.
As mentioned earlier, previous incarnations of this team really didn’t allow it to rest or take time off. Aside from CJ McCollum and a handful of contributions from Jusuf Nurkic, there was little offensive help available to Lillard, exemplified by the 34-57 record the team has held since 2012 when Lillard was out of action.
I’m not saying the current Blazers squad are world champions, but with the additions of Jerami Grant, Justise Winslow and Josh Hart and the rise of Anfernee Simons over the past nine months, there have been relief from Lillard’s charge. The team obviously still feels Lillard’s absence, but there are arguably more hands on deck to share the offensive load – see the underdog win last night over the Phoenix Suns in Arizona.
Hypothetically and conservatively, if Lillard were to play 70 games this regular season — he’s already missed three and potentially a fourth game later today — two playoff games and, say, a six-game playoff series, he’d hit the court 78 times.
Using his career average of 36 minutes per game, his total season minutes should be around 2,800. That’s a lot of diving over the edge, getting bumped and falling to the ground, that’s a lot of chasing. opposing players through the screens. There’s quite a bit of hauling the ball over 30 feet and with the way this team has increased their pace, there’s a lot more aerobic involvement.
I am not a sports scientist. But you have to imagine that those minutes decrease by a few hundred, man is going to be cooler. And while cutting his in-game minutes is fine, resting tactically selected plays will be much more effective in giving Lillard the rest he needs.
Because if this team is going to do anything in the playoffs, you want your almost 33-year-old superstar to still have a little more juice in his body. Let’s also remember that this summer Lillard signed an extension giving him a $63.2 million player option for the 2026-27 season when he turns 36, almost 37. Not that he doesn’t. didn’t deserve, but the last thing the Blazers want is a former star, battered by injury, taking up much of the franchise’s salary cap when Simons and Sharpe – if they’re still on the roster – reach their respective advancements .
When do you put it down?
Last Friday’s blowout victory for the Houston Rockets was the perfect example of Lillard’s load-handling potential. And once the Blazers get through the tricky part of the season before the schedule moves to 2023, many teams will be eyeing Victor Wembanyama, deliberately losing games to improve their lottery chances.
The quirky Frenchman could be one of the most sought-after young talents the league has seen in decades, prompting franchises to weed out veterans and winning players for picks and bad plays, much like the Blazers have. did last season.
For the sake of discussion, let’s tentatively place the Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, and Orlando Magic in this category. Of the Blazers’ final 27 games of the season, they’ve faced these teams seven times.
That’s seven games where the opponent can actively try to work their way up the leaderboard. So giving Lillard those games tests the depth of the roster and gives young players a chance to grow and take on responsibility in a team that is always trying to win.
That’s why we love him, but the man pushed himself too hard for too long. He also has a player option worth north of $63 million at the age of 36. So it has to be in this team’s short-term and long-term interest to keep Lillard’s body fresh and as injury-free as possible.
Even though the abdominal issue has been resolved, Lillard’s tenacious and frantic style of play will still make him more prone to injury, whether it’s worries or complaints that keep him out of action for long periods of time.
Maybe he’s already come to the conclusion that he needs to be more tactical in the regular season. If so, great. Otherwise, it’s something he and the franchise need to discuss to make sure he contributes at the highest level for as long as humanly, or Lillard-ly, possible.