The Portland Trail Blazers got dealt a double dose of injury news Thursday, with LaMarcus Aldridge (lower back contusion) and Mo Williams (right hip strain) undergoing MRIs in San Antonio, with the results confirming that both players will miss multiple games.
Aldridge’s MRI confirmed the three-time All-Star power forward suffered a lower back contusion in Wednesday night’s loss to the Spurs at the AT&T Center. The injury occurred when Aldridge landed hard on his back after colliding with Spur center Aron Baynes at the 11:17 mark of the third quarter. Aldridge remained on the court for an extended period of time and had to be helped to the locker room by his teammates. X-rays taken after the game came back negative, though the MRI taken Thursday morning confirmed a soft tissue injury.
“Unfortunately we played a few games without (Aldridge), so we’re accustomed to that kind of style of play,” said Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews after Wednesday night’s game. “We’re going to fight every game, we’re going to compete. Now it’s just time for us to make our own luck. Get the 50/50 balls, turn these games around, stop waiting for it to happen and just go make it happen like we were doing earlier in the year.”
Aldridge potentially missing just two games seems like good news given how severe the injury looked when it occurred. However, the same could not be said for Williams’ prognosis.
Williams is expected to miss at least the next two weeks with a right hip strain, after which he will also be reevaluated. Williams missed the entire second half of Portland’s loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis after heading to the locker room midway through the second quarter and has not played since. Earl Watson picked up most of Williams’ minutes at point guard in Wednesday night’s game with CJ McCollum and Will Barton filling in at shooting guard.
Williams will miss at least eight games in the next two weeks and it’s possible he misses more depending on how the injury heals. The 6-1 combo guard had not missed a game due to injury this season before Wednesday, though he has missed four games at various times this season for personal reasons. Portland is 2-2 in those games.
While there’s never a good time for injuries, the team losing two of their most talented and veteran players is particularly ill-timed considering Portland is in the midst of a four-game losing streak. The Trail Blazers are just 1.5 games ahead of the Golden State Warriors, a team they’ll host on Sunday without Aldridge and Williams, for the fifth seed and 3.5 games ahead of the Grizzlies and Mavericks for the seventh and eighth seeds.
“I would say it’s the most adversity that we’ve had to go against as a team (this season),” said Lillard Wednesday night. “With losing LA and Mo being out tonight, four losses in a row for the first time. It’s a really tough stretch. I think the type of year that we’ve turned this into, with us being 42-23, I think we’ve kind of give ourselves some room for error or some room for a time like this where we lose four games in a row unexpected. It’s time for us to turn it around.”
Both the Trail Blazers and Warriors are getting good injury news just a few hours before Game Four of their Western Conference semifinal series starts later tonight at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on TNT and 620 AM).
On the home side, Trail Blazers starting forward Maurice Harkless is listed as probable for Game Four despite suffering a right hip contusion on Game Two. Harkless tried to play through the injury, starting in Portland’s Game Three victory on Saturday at the Moda Center. Though he started the game, the 6-9 forward was severely limited and would go on to play less than seven minutes in the win.
But after sitting out most of Game Three and resting on Sunday’s off day, Harkless said at Trail Blazers shootaround Monday morning that he was feeling better and optimistic about his chances of playing come Game Four.
“I tried not to do too much on the court but I did some running around, moving around, side to side stuff in the weight room,” said Harkless. “It felt pretty good so I’m going to try to do stuff on the court and participate in the whole shootaround, see how I feel.”
Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts wouldn’t give any indication as to whether Harkless would start Game Four if he is in fact able to play. It’s possible either Gerald Henderson or Allen Crabbe, who both saw significant minutes increases in Game Three with Harkless sidelined, could start in Harkless’ place even if he’s healthy enough to play Monday night.
“I’m going to try to go either way, but I don’t want to be a detriment to the team,” said Harkless. “Obviously if I can’t move well enough, I’m sure Coach will take me out.”
The situation with the Warriors and Stephen Curry, though improving, is not nearly as cut and dried. Curry, who has been sidelined since straining his right MCL on April 24, has been upgraded to questionable for Game Four, though his availability won’t be decided until later Monday afternoon.
“(Curry) went through shootaround and he felt pretty good,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. “We’ll see, he’s going to get treatment again this afternoon.”
Kerr said it was possible Curry, the reigning MVP, could come off the bench even if he’s available to play in Game Four, as he’s only played 39 minutes in Golden State’s last eight games between his current MCL and an ankle injury in Game One that kept him out of most of the Warriors’ first round series versus the Rockets.
But regardless of if Curry plays, the Trail Blazers say their preparation or game plan doesn’t much change.
“We’ve played against them enough times to where we know how we will guard him,” said Damian Lillard. “Our approach is the same either way. Coverages change when different guys come into the game, so that wouldn’t be a tough adjustment. We would guard him different than we would guard Shaun Livingston, we would guard (Leandro) Barbosa different than we would guard Livingston. It changes anyway, so when he comes back, we’ll just make that adjustment when he’s in the game. When somebody goes in for him, we’ll go back to what we’ve been doing these first couple games.”
Despite being a heavy underdog, the Portland Trail Blazers evened their best-of-seven first round playoff series by winning Game Four versus a relatively healthy Los Angeles Clippers squad. The same could not be said of the team the Trail Blazers will face in Game Five Wednesday night at Staples Center.
The Clippers announced Tuesday afternoon that starting point guard Chris Paul would be out for at least the next four weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured third metacarpal in his right hand, an injury he suffered in the third quarter of Portland’s 98-84 victory in Game Four. Paul, a nine-time All-Star and arguably the best point guard in the NBA, averaged 23.8 points on 49 percent shooting, 7.3 assists, 4.0 assists and 2.3 steals while playing stellar defense on Portland’s guards in the first four games of the series.
“My job as a coach is to figure out a way of getting us up and ready for Game Five,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “There’s nobody, probably in the league, that’s going to replace Chris Paul so there’s nobody clearly on our team that’s going to do it. As a group everybody pitches in.”
While the Clippers stopped short of listing Paul out for the entire playoffs, saying instead that he would be reevaluated in four to six weeks, that timeline assures the 6-3 veteran point guard out of Wake Forest will miss the rest of the series versus Portland.
To make matters worse for Rivers, it was also announced that Blake Griffin would miss the rest of the postseason with a left quad injury that has dogged the All-Star power forward for much of the season. Griffin also suffered his injury in the third quarter of Game Four.
“I could feel it,” said Griffin after Game Four. “Hopefully in the next 24-48 hours you turn a corner and feel better, so I’m not really concentrated on how it felt tonight, that’s kind of expected after you tweak something.”
Griffin had an MRI on his left quad Tuesday, which showed no new damage, but the aggravation was evidently serious enough to sideline the five-time All-Star. He played in just 35 games this season due to dealing with a partially torn left quad and a broken hand. Griffin averaged 15.0 points on 38 percent shooting, 8.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 31.8 minutes during the 2016 postseason.
Rivers will likely look to some combination of Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and Pablo Prigioni to fill in for Paul, while Jeff Green, who started 10 games for the Clippers after being traded midseason from the Grizzlies, while likely pick up Blake’s minutes. Rivers and Green are listed as probable starters in place of Paul and Griffin, respectively, according to the newest version of L.A.’s game notes.
“We’re going home, all they’ve done is win two games at home just like we won two games at home,” said Rivers. “We’ve been in adverse situations all year with guys out but guys have come through and I expect us to do that at our place.”
And we’re back. Less than 12 hours after the Trail Blazers defeated the Clippers at the Moda Center in Game Four to knot the first round series at two games apiece, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the studio for the second time in 24 hours to record another edition of the Rip City Report, hot off the mp3 presses…
On this edition, we discuss Portland’s win in Game Four, the monumental shift in the series due to Chris Paul breaking a bone in his right hand, other Clippers injuries and how they affect the series going forward, Portland seizing momentum and whether or not they’re now the favorites, the slump-busting performances of Al-Farouq Aminu and Allen Crabbe, Terry Stotts finishing second in Coach of the Year voting and answer your Twitter questions regarding adjustments, reporting taboos, the “Rip City” jerseys and whether CP3’s alternate egos are prepared to step in. It really is a new day.