The Portland Trail Blazers will take another step toward getting back to full strength against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, as Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reports that All-Star guard Damian Lillard will return from a one-game absence due to a knee contusion.
Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard (knee contusion) will return today against the Toronto Raptors and Norman Powell will start over Derrick Jones Jr., league sources tell @YahooSports.- Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) March 28, 2021
While the headline news is that the Blazers will return their leader and 30-point-per-game scorer, Haynes also reports that the team intends to keep newly acquired Norman Powell in the starting lineup, with Derrick Jones Jr. reverting to a role off the bench.
PREVIEW: Raptors, Blazers face off days after trade deadline deal
When Portland traded Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood to the Raptors for Powell, there were questions surrounding what head coach Terry Stotts would do with the starting lineup now that the team's roster was beginning to get healthy. Scoring machine C.J. McCollum had recently returned to the floor after missing two months with a foot injury and big man Jusuf Nurkic just played in his first game on Friday after missing over two months with a broken wrist.
With both of those players sliding back into the starting lineup, interim starters Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter fell back to the bench. But with Lillard missing his second contest of the season with a knee contusion at the same time Powell was making his Blazers debut, coach Stotts was able to seamlessly integrate Powell into the starting lineup.
But what would happen once Lillard returned? Competing with versatile defenders Jones Jr. and Robert Covington, it seemed like Powell's fate would be the team's sixth man. And as Raptors fans know all too well, the difference between starter-Powell and reserve-Powell is... drastic.
Take a look at Powell's splits as a starter and reserve this season.
MORE: Powell's best moments with Raptors | Powell speaks on upcoming game vs. Raptors
Powell was awesome in his first game as a starter with Portland, going for 22 points on a typically efficient 7-for-13 (53.8%) from the field and 5-for-7 (71.4%) from 3-point range - the most points in franchise history for a player making a mid-season debut.
It appears as though it was enough to maintain a starting role moving forward, even upon Lillard's return, with Haynes' report signaling Jones to the bench.
Whether or not the decision is situational, especially with Powell set to face off against his former team, is to be seen. But for the meantime, Powell get to continue the best season of his career as a starter.
You can watch Powell and the Blazers take on the Raptors on Sunday, March 28 at 7 p.m. ET on SN One.
The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.