For the Trail Blazers and their fans, the big day is almost here.
Friday brings Game 1 of the NBA’s daring plan to restart a season that went off the tracks. For the Trail Blazers, it came after a Portland win on March 10 over Phoenix, just the team’s fifth victory in its last 14 games.
This is not exactly a do-over, but it’s a second chance.
It could be an opportunity for Portland to pull off a heroic rescue of a season that was destined to be wrecked by injuries. Or it could be just an annoying dead end for a team that lost its way.
But with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins now healthy, the Trail Blazers meet the West’s eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies Friday at 1 p.m. on the first step of a long journey to capture a playoff berth. Portland sits three and a half games behind Memphis in the chase for the final playoff spot and a scant percentage point ahead of New Orleans and Sacramento.
Obviously, the game vs. Memphis has a great deal of meaning to it, which doesn’t escape the attention of the Trail Blazers.
“The first win is super-important, because it basically equals two wins for us,” Damian Lillard said Thursday. “Getting closer to the eighth spot and getting some distance from the team behind us. It also sets the tone to start off with a win, instead of starting off in the hole.
“It’s going to be huge for us to get the first win.”
Coach Terry Stotts said, “This is a big game and we know it. I think everybody on the team knows how important this game is.”
And Portland fans took a huge sigh of relief Thursday afternoon when it was revealed that Lillard will be playing Friday, after sitting out the team’s final two scrimmages with inflammation in his left foot.
“I don’t even know what I did,” he said. “I don’t think I did anything specific. After the first scrimmage, I felt fine. Got back to the room, I felt fine. When I woke up the next morning, my foot was sore.
“We basically think it was just soreness from having a four-month break and then coming back and having high intensity. I think it got just a little bit irritated.”
Obviously, without Lillard, the Trail Blazers would be severely handicapped. But he says he’s playing without a minutes restriction.
“I feel fine,” he said after Thursday’s workout. “I worked out hard for 35 minutes last night, No limits. I was able to do everything normal — move side to side, sprint, jump. And I did everything today so I feel fine.”
And he says he will play as long as he’s asked to play, in what his coach and the team are calling a playoff game, even though it’s just the first of an eight-game culmination to a shortened regular season.
“This is the playoffs,” Lillard said. “It’s going to be a normal situation. Play a lot of minutes, especially with everything that is on the line. But we’re not traveling, not changing time zones, you get to recover faster. We’ve trained. I’ve trained. I’m strong, my body feels strong.”
Could he go 40 minutes, as he’s done in the playoffs previously?
“If that’s what Terry says I’m playing, that’s what I’m playing,” he said.
Coverage begins with Blazer Warm-up at noon, on the exclusive home of the Trail Blazers, NBC Sports Northwest.
Finally, the Trail Blazers return Friday — and with a healthy Damian Lillard originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest