LaMarcus Aldridge rusty in return, but 'happy to be playing again'

SAN ANTONIO -- LaMarcus Aldridge exhibited some rust in his return to action during the Spurs' 110-106 loss Wednesday night to the Trail Blazers, after he missed two games because of a minor heart arrhythmia.

Yet despite shooting 9-of-24 for 19 points as San Antonio dropped its second straight game, Aldridge was in good spirits, saying he was just happy to be back in the fold after enduring an incident he admitted scared him.

"It felt good to be back out there," Aldridge said. "But we didn't get the win, so that's kind of tough to deal with. Happy to be out there with my teammates, and happy to be playing again."

Aldridge, 31, trotted slowly out of the San Antonio locker room at 6:05 p.m. CT for pregame warm-ups. He waved at former Trail Blazers teammates before catching a pass from a Spurs ball boy and firing up several practice shots.

Once the game tipped off 55 minutes later, Aldridge showed no signs of trepidation about a recurrence of the arrhythmia. In fact, Aldridge hoisted up San Antonio's first shot of the night, a 17-footer that gave the Spurs an early 2-0 lead.

"He looked a little rusty," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "I don't think he had his rhythm, but his effort was great, and that's all you can ask for."

Aldridge connected on 3 of 6 shots in the first quarter for six points, then endured a cold spell that never subsided as he finished 6-of-18 the rest of the way. Aldridge did throw down a dunk while being fouled with 53.7 seconds remaining off an assist from Manu Ginobili, and knocked down the ensuing free throw to pull the Spurs within two points (104-102).

He also reached 1,000 points in a season for the 10th straight year, joining LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as the only active players with that streak.

Aldridge's subpar performance didn't put a damper on his spirits.

Aldridge received news from doctors Tuesday that he had been cleared to return to action, and he took part in the team's shootaround Wednesday morning leading into the matchup against Portland. Aldridge's teammates didn't even find out until Wednesday morning before shootaround that he would be available to participate in the game, and Ginobili called the news "a great feeling."

"We were a little worried, a little concerned," Ginobili said. "That type of issue is not a hand, an ankle, a knee, something like that. It's a pretty important organ, so when we heard he was fine, healthy, and ready to be back with the team, it means he is doing great and it's not something to worry about. That's a great feeling, besides the point of if he is playing today, or not. The important thing is he is healthy."

Teammate Pau Gasol agreed.

"You always want your teammates to be healthy and be able to play, especially when there is a heart issue," Gasol said. "That is not a sprained ankle or anything minor. So we were all concerned. We were all happy and excited to hear the news. We are happy to have him back."

The Spurs announced Friday that Aldridge would be out indefinitely after he experienced what was described as an "episode" of minor heart arrhythmia on the heels of San Antonio's loss the night before at Oklahoma City. In a process led by the team's medical staff, Aldridge underwent a battery of tests and examinations Friday and Monday at an undisclosed location outside of San Antonio, and returned to the Spurs late Monday night after their win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Popovich said Aldridge had complained of "feeling off" after the loss to the Thunder.

"I know my body well, and I've been through this before. I told the team and we did the protocol. I saw the right people, and I'm good to go. ... I'm just thankful for the team acting so quickly, and I saw the right people."
Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge

The coach commended Aldridge on Wednesday morning for "being a consummate pro" for the way he "dealt with this all year long, which nobody really knew about."

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said, "All of us have been impressed with the professionalism and grace he has shown in dealing with this difficult situation."

Aldridge, who entered Wednesday averaging 17.3 points and 7.4 rebounds, explained what Popovich meant when saying Aldridge had been dealing with his latest medical setback all year long.

"No, this is something that I've dealt with since my first year in the league, and there's been protocols put into place if I felt like something changed," Aldridge said. "I felt like something had changed. So I did the research, I went and saw some people, and I'm fine."

As a rookie in 2007, Aldridge received a diagnosis of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which is an abnormality of the heart's electrical system that can cause an abnormal heartbeat and dizziness. Aldridge underwent a minor procedure that season to correct the issue and missed the final nine games.

Aldridge experienced a recurrence of the condition at the start of the 2011-12 season after it was discovered during a preseason checkup with a cardiologist. Since the original diagnosis, every year Aldridge has undergone a preseason evaluation with a cardiologist.

Aldridge said doctors put specific protocols in place for when he feels there might be a problem.

Asked if the latest medical setback scared him, Aldridge didn't hesitate.

"Of course, because it was a very serious matter," he said. "But I knew that we had things in place to try to figure it out quick."

Aldridge declined to discuss specifics about how his arrhythmia episode felt, describing it as "just an off feeling."

"It's just a different feeling," Aldridge said. "I know my body well, and I've been through this before. I told the team and we did the protocol. I saw the right people, and I'm good to go. As we got into it more and more, I talked to more people about it. I was feeling more confident, because it definitely ... it started off the opposite. I'm just thankful for the team acting so quickly, and I saw the right people."