By Kevin Pelton | ESPN.com
PORTLAND, Ore. — Less than 48 hours after the Portland Trail Blazers announced that forward LaMarcus Aldridge would undergo surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder returned to action Saturday night against the Washington Wizards.
Aldridge, having experienced a reduction in the swelling in his thumb and testing it after the Blazers’ shootaround Saturday morning, decided to postpone surgery that was expected to keep him out six to eight weeks. He anticipates delaying it until after the season, if he’s able to tolerate the pain.
“My pain level changed a lot over the last 48 hours as far as being able to tolerate some things,” Aldridge said before the game. “I feel like I’ll give it a try. We don’t know if it’s going to be good or bad, but we’re going to try.”
The decision came as a surprise to Aldridge’s teammates, including guard Damian Lillard, who initially thought Aldridge was defying doctors’ orders by getting on the court at the team’s practice facility.
“I saw him on the court dribbling and shooting,” Lillard said. “I was like, ‘I don’t think he’s supposed to be doing that.’ I mentioned to somebody he was out there on the court and they said he was going to play. I got on Twitter and saw it. I was excited. He walked off the court and I was clapping, saying, ‘I’m happy you’re playing.'”
Aldridge’s return could be crucial to a Portland team already playing without starting center Robin Lopez and backup Joel Freeland. Without Aldridge, the Blazers were competitive in a 118-113 loss Wednesday at Phoenix before being stunned by the Boston Celtics at home on Thursday when Evan Turner made the winning 3-pointer with one second remaining.
The loss to Boston — and the absence of starting forward Nicolas Batum, who left Thursday’s game with a sprained wrist and will not play Saturday — factored into Aldridge’s decision to play through pain after he was advised by doctors that he still would have full use of the thumb in the future.
“That wasn’t a good loss,” he said. “Not having Nico hurts us even more. I just tried to do some things today, and it went well.”
Lillard was impressed by Aldridge’s willingness to return.
“It’s really selfless,” Lillard said. “I think that’s the best way to put it. He’s putting aside what’s best for him and what he’s going through for the sake of the team. Obviously we’re not the team that we are with LaMarcus without him. I’m just glad he’s going to be out there.”
The Blazers (31-13) lead the Northwest Division and entered Saturday tied for second in the Western Conference with the Memphis Grizzlies. With Aldridge back in the lineup, their chances of maintaining that level of play improve.
“I think he wanted to play,” coach Terry Stotts said. “He knows we’ve got a good season going. He wants to be part of it and support the team. We’ve struggled the last two games without him. In that respect, it didn’t surprise me, but I certainly anticipated him getting the surgery.”
In his ninth NBA season, all with Portland, Aldridge recently moved into second on the franchise list for both points (11,782) and rebounds (5,095). He trails only Clyde Drexler with 18,050 points and 5,339 rebounds.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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