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Blazers star, recovering from surgery, says there would be no point in playing if Portland wants to miss playoffs.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Pictured in an October game against Sacramento, Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard is recovering from surgery to repair an abdominal injury he admits has been an issue off and on for several years. He is looking forward to playing pain free. But, when might that happen?To play, or not to play?

That is the question Damian Lillard might soon face.

And, as tough as it might be for a competitor like Dame, the smart answer might be: "Not."

During a chat with Portland media on Saturday, Jan. 22, nine days post-surgery on his abdomen, Lillard was frank about the value of him playing if the team is focused on getting better through the draft rather than on pushing for a playoff spot.

Responding to a question from Jason Quick of The Athletic, Lillard said:

"I mean, if we are going to play for a draft pick, it wouldn't make sense for me … because I'm not going to play for no draft pick. I'm just not capable of that. So it would be best, if that was what we were doing or what was decided, then it wouldn't make sense for me to play."

He's right, of course. Considering that Lillard said he has dealt with the core injury since the 2015-16 season, and that it gradually got worse, there is no reason to rush the recovery.

Of course, Lillard's competitive side means he'll be itching to get back once cleared. But, he continues to list winning a championship as his goal. Even with the Blazers playing better basketball, this isn't a championship-level roster. So, if Lillard doesn't play another minute this season, it could be best for him and the franchise.

As to when he might be able to return, Lillard pointed to Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb, who had a similar procedure by the same surgeon and played in the Packers' playoff game against San Francisco about six weeks after surgery.

Figure late February is the earliest Lillard might be able to return. Where will the Blazers be by then?

The way they've begun to play — with Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington improving their trade value, CJ McCollum back in the lineup and youngsters showing strong potential — qualifying for the playoffs for the ninth straight season seems a lot more realistic than it did a couple of weeks ago.

But, what will the roster look like when Lillard is ready? Portland is expected to be active in the trade market. As of Monday, Jan. 24, there were no moves. With the trade deadline Feb. 10, speculation figures to only get hotter.

Lillard said it's difficult for him to watch Blazers games while injured because he cannot impact the outcome. In fact, he said he initially planned to avoid watching games — to use this as a chance to "get away from the stress of it."

But, he said, the play of Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little keeps him watching.

"I haven't been able to stop watching for that reason," Lillard said. "So, it's tough to watch as a competitor, but it's been fun to watch, too."

What's ahead: A brief, two-day visit to Moda Center concludes with a Wednesday, Jan. 26, game against Dallas (a day after a visit from Minnesota). Then, it's back on the road for a Friday, Jan. 28, game at Houston (5 p.m., ROOT), a Sunday, Jan. 30, game at Chicago (12:30 p.m., ROOT SPORTS PLUS), a Monday, Jan. 31, game at Oklahoma City (5 p.m., ROOT) and a Wednesday, Feb. 2, visit to the Los Angeles Lakers (7:30 p.m., ROOT).

A five-game homestand Feb. 4-12 features visits from the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, the Lakers and the New York Knicks (Feb. 12, the first Blazer game after the trade deadline).

What's behind: On Jan. 17 at Orlando, Nurkic had 21 points and 22 rebounds in a 98-88 win over the Magic. … On Jan. 19 at Miami, Simons had 27 points and seven assists in a game the Heat closed out despite seeing Jimmy Butler ejected in the third quarter. … On Jan. 21 at Boston, a big effort from Nurkic highlighted a 109-105 win over the Celtics as the center finished with 29 points, 17 rebounds and six assists. He scored two key baskets after offensive rebounds down the stretch and also drained a 3 to help shift momentum in the fourth quarter. On Jan. 31 at Toronto …


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