The Portland Trail Blazers have been without their star player Damian Lillard since Nov. 19. Portland has gone 1-5 since the guard left the lineup with a strained right calf. The good news for the team is that the All-Star is due to return by Sunday, when the team plays the Indiana Pacers, per NBA insider Chris Haynes.
Lillard has appeared in 11 of the team’s 21 games this season. This is the second stretch of games that he has missed. Against the Miami Heat on Oct. 26, Lillard suffered an injury that forced him to leave the game early and then miss the next four contests.
The Trail Blazers (11-10) are hoping that they can return to early season form with Lillard's return. Currently in second place in the Northwest Division behind the Denver Nuggets, Portland started 9-3, one of the best records in the Western Conference.
Once Lillard returns, he will join backcourt mate Anfernee Simons as one of the league's best guard combos. While Lillard has been healthy this season, he proved to be as good as ever, averaging 26.3 points and 7.0 assists per game.
The Blazers hope to have their star player around for most of the season. He was only available for 29 games last season, eventually having abdominal surgery while the team went 27-55 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13. Portland is 7-4 with Lillard and 4-6 without him this season.
The Trail Blazers' rebuild
After missing the playoffs last season, the Trail Blazers are trying to get back there this season. The team had a disappointing season in Chauncey Billups' first year as a head coach. Now in Billups' second year, the team appears to have a better all-around roster.
Last season, the team traded guard CJ McCollum at the trade deadline in February. This year could be a rebuilding season, but the team has found a way to build back up in a short amount of time. Anfernee Simons and Lillard form a strong backcourt. Simons has shown himself to be a capable replacement for McCollum, averaging 23.9 ppg and 4.3 apg while shooting 38.3% from the 3-point line.
The team is also getting good production from forward Jerami Grant, who was acquired in a trade with the Detroit Pistons over the summer. Grant averages 22.0 ppg while shooting 47.9% from outside the arc. The team also has a healthy Jusuf Nurkic, who is chipping in at 14.6 ppg and 10.0 rpg.
Once Lillard returns and the roster can continue to grow together, they may have a chance to challenge in the Western Conference.