The Portland Trail Blazers have caught the injury bug in February. Four Blazers have missed games due to injury since the All-Star break. Inured players include All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge (groin), Thomas Robinson (knee), Meyers Leonard (ankle) and Joel Freeland (knee).
If you didn’t notice, those are all post players. You know it’s bad when Victor Claver is forced into playing in the post. Luckily Robin Lopez has continued to show that he is a serious center in this league. Since the All-Star break Lopez has tallied a double-double from points and rebounds in three out of five games, with an average of 4.3 blocks in those three games.
This is a really good sign for the Trail Blazers. It shows that the team doesn’t live or die without Aldridge in the lineup. It also shows that players are able to step up when the Blazers are down in numbers. I didn’t have much hope in the Trail Blazers winning many games since Aldridge has been out. I thought they would go .500 at best during the stretch, but they have surprisingly turned in a 4-1 record.
But Lopez isn’t the only Blazers starter playing well; All-Star Damian Lillard is healthy and playing out of his mind. Lillard has averaged 27.2 point, 5.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds since the All-Star break, and those numbers would be higher if he wasn’t limited in minutes in a 44-point blowout over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. Lillard is making his case for the best player on the Blazers squad with the performances he’s turned in without Aldridge present.
The bench has also stepped up big for the Blazers. Mo Williams, Will Barton, Robinson and Claver have all had big games with increased minutes as coach Terry Stotts has had to delve deeper into his bench. Luckily (or maybe unluckily) for Stotts, players who normally don’t make it onto the court are making their case to be a part of the rotation. Stotts will have the tough task of deciding whether to go back to their regular rotation after everyone gets healthy, or taking away minutes from some players to get others on the court.
My guess is Stotts will make room for more players to get into the rotation for a short period of time, then decide based on who is playing consistently well who gets to stay in the rotation. This could prove difficult for a player like Barton because of the depth of talent the team has at guard. Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Williams and C.J. McCollum have all consistently played well. But Barton could push Dorell Wright for minutes and get slipped in at the forward spot because of the inconsistent play of Wright this season.
Fortunately for Stotts and the Trail Blazers it’s a much better problem to have a lot of guys playing well than having the opposite. Players are hustling and playing with a sense of urgency with the minutes they are getting, and they can only hope that continues.