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Detroit — Andre Drummond passed the first big challenge.

After having sinus surgery to correct his deviated septum, the Pistons center played in the NBA Africa Game in South Africa — and it wasn’t just about competing against the other players.

It was also about playing at a high altitude for the first time since his surgery. Johannesburg is about 5,700 feet above sea level — almost 500 feet higher than Denver — and Drummond had another typical game, with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

What was different was that he could breathe better, not just on the court, but his rest has gotten better and he’s able to get more oxygen in his chest every day. That’s bound to help throughout an 82-game regular season, whether it’s a west-coast trip to Denver and Utah or an extended trip to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

“Just being able to breathe, I can’t even explain how great it feels to sleep easier and breathe easier when I play,” Drummond told The Detroit News on Monday at a philanthropic event in Detroit. “I’m not worried about gasping for air when I go hard. Even during that (NBA Africa) game, we were at a higher altitude and I didn’t feel as tired as I (would usually be).”

Drummond, 24, is entering his sixth season and had issues with his deviated septum for years. Drummond’s deviated septum completely blocked his left sinus passage, severely limiting his oxygen intake, such that he breathed mostly through his right nostril and mouth.

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It was a problem, but not something that he investigated seriously until a couple years ago. “I didn’t look into it until my fourth year in the league to know (what it means) to have a deviated septum,” Drummond said. “(Doctors) said over time it was going to gradually get worse if I didn’t get it taken care of.

“This past season was the worst it’s been and I did my X-rays and my whole left side was completely closed. Breathing out mouth and right side: that was all I had for the whole season and it was tough to play like that.”

The situation used to get worse for Drummond in allergy season, when breathing became progressively harder. For Drummond, that timeline included the fall — the NBA season begins in October — and the spring.

“My allergies are horrible throughout the season, so when they came, I was literally breathing through my mouth the entire time,” Drummond said. “I did what I needed to do; I did the surgery and now I feel great.”

Drummond also played some games during the Drew League pro-am that showed his endurance and breathing could be improved ahead of next season.

A chance to bond

Drummond had a first chance to play with some of his new teammates last week, as the team gathered for team-bonding activities in Las Vegas.

Several Pistons posted images and videos on Instagram highlighting some of the activities, including a birthday celebration for Drummond, who turned 24 on Thursday.

“The week was more focused on weightlifting and playing,” Drummond said. “It was more just trying to be together and do different things together. We spent about nearly 18 hours a day together and got to know each other really well.”

Drummond gave a thumbs-up to some of the newer Pistons, including rookie first-round pick Luke Kennard, free-agent signee Langston Galloway.

“I really like Luke a lot. He’s a very good kid and great player,” Drummond said. “I’ve known Langston for a while so I knew what to expect from him. Avery wasn’t able to make the trip and Boban was still in Serbia but everybody else was there.”

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

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