After spending the first nine years of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers, LaMarcus Aldridge left this past summer and signed a long-term deal with the San Antonio Spurs. For the past three years, Aldridge had played alongside Damian Lillard, developing a great on-court relationship and making the Blazers a perennial playoff team. So with Aldridge returning to Portland on Wednesday night, Lillard is looking forward to playing against his former teammate.
For Lillard, Aldridge is now just another opponent. Whatever relationship Aldridge and Lillard had in the past will be put aside once the game starts.
"I want to beat him, I want to beat that team," All-Star Damian Lillard said. "He wanted to go somewhere where he could win a championship. He did that. Now they're coming to us. I want to beat them. That's just the competitor in me."
Lillard and Aldridge spoke on the phone the day after Aldridge decided to defect to the San Antonio Spurs, cleared the air and haven't talked since. When Aldridge and the Spurs visit the Moda Center at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday night, it will be the first time they've seen each other since last season.
"With me, it's no hard feelings," Lillard said. "He'll come back and he's the competition now. So I hope he doesn't make a shot."
"I'm sure when we come out and he's on the other end, it'll be weird for the fans," Lillard said. "You see him in a uniform for nine years and now he's toward 30 years-old and on another team. I'm sure it'll be different for them. It'll be different for me, too, just seeing him on the opposing team. But like I said, it's just another game. We've lost two in a row and we need to protect home court."
As one of the most competitive players in the NBA, Lillard's thoughts on Aldridge's return to Portland are not surprising to hear. They will probably exchange some pleasantries but now that Aldridge is with the Spurs, Lillard is the leader of the Blazers and he is determined to make Portland as good as they can be.
Lillard may be fired up to beat Aldridge and the Spurs after the Blazers lost a tough one to the Nuggets. The Blazers had several chances down the stretch but Denver rookie Emmanuel Mudiay blocked Lillard on two separate key possessions.
Led by Lillard and C.J. McCollum, the Blazers have surprised a lot of teams at the beginning of the season. With the motivation to not let Aldridge "make a shot," the Spurs could be in for a tough game on Wednesday night.