The Portland Trail Blazers will be without star guard Damian Lillard when they try to retain their top spot in the Northwest Division against the visiting Houston Rockets on Friday night.
Portland took its first loss of the season Wednesday, beaten at home 119-98 by the Miami Heat.
The game was more competitive than the score would indicate. The Trail Blazers led by as many as eight early on, then were hanging within nine when Lillard left the game for good with 5:10 remaining in the third period with a strained right calf.
The six-time All-Star indicated afterward he didn’t consider the injury to be serious. But without consultation, he essentially pulled himself from Friday’s game.
An MRI taken Thursday found it to be a Grade 1 calf strain. The team said Lillard would be reevaluated in one to two weeks.
Working in the Trail Blazers’ favor is that after the Houston game, they don’t play again until Wednesday.
“I’ve just got to be smart and make sure I’m getting a couple of treatment sessions in each day and just try to stretch it,” Lillard said before the MRI.
“It’s early. Things feel good. I haven’t felt this good since my second or third year. Everything that I did this summer is just adding up. I feel fast; I feel strong. I don’t get tired. And I don’t want to lose that. So I’ve got to be patient.”
Lillard averaged 33.3 points during the Trail Blazers’ 4-0 start, shooting 50 percent overall and 40 percent on 3-pointers while playing 37.1 minutes per game.
While he’s out, the Trail Blazers will have to hope that Anfernee Simons picks up the slack, as he did on several occasions late last season when Lillard missed the final 47 games.
Simons averaged 23.4 points over 27 games with Lillard sidelined before also suffering a season-ending knee injury.
The Trail Blazers and Rockets split four games last season. Simons played in both wins, averaging 17.5 points, and sat out both losses.
Jalen Green was the big reason for a Houston two-game sweep in Portland in March, averaging 24 points while hitting 11-for-21 from 3-point range.
The 20-year-old is off to a hot start this season, especially in a four-day, three-game stretch that ended Monday, during which the Rockets recorded their first win, 114-108 over the previously unbeaten Utah Jazz.
Green put up 33, 22 and 25 points over the three games, making 12 of his 20 3-point attempts.
He was held to 17 points and connected just twice from 3-point range in nine tries when the Rockets fell 109-101 at Utah in a rematch Wednesday.
Houston coach Stephen Silas looks forward to seeing a different foe after the home-and-home with Utah.
“That’s what happens when you play a team two times in a row,” Silas said. “They are going to make adjustments. It’s almost like the playoffs, where you do something in Game 1, and they adjust to it. Now you have to make the next adjustment.”
–Field Level Media