PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - In a span of just 48 hours, LaMarcus Aldridge resigned himself to thumb surgery, reversed himself and decided to play through the pain, then led the Portland Trail Blazers to victory over the Washington Wizards.
“He can’t sit out. He doesn’t want to sit out. He loves this game and figures if he’s got something to give, he’s going to give,” teammate Wesley Matthews said.
The Blazers surprised many on Saturday when the team announced on Twitter that Aldridge had decided to put off surgery and would play that night against Washington.
He responded with a team-high 26 points and nine rebounds in a 103-96 win to snap a two-game losing streak.
He was sore after the game but said he was OK.
“I’ll just play until it’s intolerable. Tonight, I thought it was tolerable,” he said. “It was hurting a little but it wasn’t too much. I’ll just keep going until I feel like I’m not playing as good as I can, or I can’t take it.”
The 6-foot-11 power forward leads Portland with averages of 23.3 points and 10.2 rebounds. He’s one of just three NBA players averaging at least 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Aldridge had said on Thursday that he needed surgery to repair a ligament in his left thumb and was expected to miss from six to eight weeks.
He hurt his thumb when his hand came down on the knee of Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins in the second quarter of the Blazers’ 98-95 victory on Monday night.
“You can’t say enough,” coach Terry Stotts said about Aldridge’s return. “That was big time. Not only coming back and playing through the injury but then not favoring it, going hard, not shying away from contact, being aggressive on both ends of the court - I mean, that was big time.”
The injury looked like a big blow to the Blazers, who were already dealing with a depleted front line. Center Robin Lopez is out with a fractured right hand and center Joel Freeland is sidelined with a strained right shoulder.
Starting small forward Nicolas Batum left Thursday night’s 90-89 loss at home to the Boston Celtics after he aggravated a right wrist injury that had been bothering him. Batum did not play against Washington.
Going into Saturday’s victory, Portland had lost five of six games.
Aldridge said the close loss to the Celtics impacted his decision, and that his doctors told him there was “no harm in giving it a shot.” In the past two days he’d been able to move his thumb, which also factored into the decision.
“My idea now is to play the rest of the season,” he said. “But if it gets too much where I can’t handle it or I’m not playing at a very good level then I’ll stop. But hopefully it goes well for us.”
If he gets through the season, he’ll have the surgery in the offseason, he said.
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.
Blazers guard Damian Lillard said he greeted Aldridge with applause when he came into the locker room after his return was announced.
“I can’t even sit here and tell you how big it is just for him to be out there,” Lillard said. “Sixty percent, 70 percent LaMarcus Aldridge is better than no LaMarcus at all.”
The Blazers embark on a four-game road trip that starts Monday against the Nets.
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