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.”
The Portland Trail Blazers held a light practice Wednesday afternoon at their facility in Tualatin in preparation for Thursday night’s game versus the Toronto Raptors at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7 pm on KGW and Rip City Radio 620 AM).
• Second-year forward Noah Vonleh, who suffered a left ankle sprain in the third quarter of Tuesday night’s win versus the Bucks, did not practice Wednesday and is listed as questionable for Friday’s game versus the Raptors. The 6-9 forward in his second season out of Indiana has started the last 39 games and is averaging 3.6 points and 4.8 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game this season. His playing time had been on the uptick — he averaged 18.3 minutes per game in January after averaging 15.8 and 14.6 minutes per game in December and November, respectively — though it is possible that trend reverses depending on the severity of the injury.
As is often the case, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts declined to say who would start in the event that Vonleh is unable to play Thursday night, though one assumes that Meyers Leonard, whose shoulder injury early in the season allowed Vonleh to move into the starting five, would be the likely replacement. The one caveat is that Portland’s bench has played so well recently that Stotts might opt to replace Vonleh with someone currently out of the rotation — think Allen Crabbe starting in place of Wesley Matthews last season — in order to preserve that momentum.
“The bench has played well but it hasn’t always been the same lineups out there, especially in the second half,” said Stotts. “Certainly those guys playing together and having the rhythm of a rotation has helped.”
While it won’t be known whether Vonleh plays or who will replace him if he doesn’t until closer to tipoff, what is known is that the Trail Blazers have more options to look to on the bench than they’ve had in recent seasons.
“I think, so far this season, every time somebody has gone down, including myself, the next man has been ready to step up,” said Damian Lillard. “That’s why guys come in and prepare themselves. Obviously it will be different because Noah has gotten a lot better for us but I think the next man will step in ready. Guys just have to be ready and hopefully he’ll be healthy enough to play.”
• One of the biggest boosts to Portland’s bench during their recent five-game winning streak has been the play of Gerald Henderson. The 6-5 guard in his seventh season out of Duke is averaging 10.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in 22.6 minutes in the last five games, which is roughly five minutes more than he’s averaged per game this season.
“(Henderson) looks very comfortable playing the game,” said Terry Stotts. “Since his minutes have increased I think he’s letting the game come to him but he’s being aggressive when he has the opportunity, playing with some confidence. I think he’s adapted probably more since he knows he’s going to be out there a little bit longer, I think he’s adapted to our offense a little bit better as well. And defensively, I think the last two games in particular, he’s been very good defensively.”
Henderson had been splitting time with Maurice Harkless and the ninth and tenth men in Stotts’ rotation, but over the last five games, Stotts has opted to increase Henderson’s minutes while playing Harkless just seven minutes combined during that stretch.
“He and Moe, it’s been difficult for both of them through the course of the season playing in the first half, not knowing if you’re going to play in the second half,” said Stotts. “It’s been a difficult situation for both of them, so making the decision just to give Gerald those minutes and it’s worked out well and we go from there.”
It’s possible that Harkless, who is averaging 16.6 minutes in 48 appearances this season, will have a chance to reclaim some playing time, especially if Vonleh is unable to play due to a sprained left ankle, but it won’t come at the expense of Henderson’s hard-earned minutes.
“It’s difficult for Moe not getting in because he’s been a part of what we’ve been doing all year,” said Stotts. “With Noah possibly being out he’s going to have to be ready because that opens up some minutes, but it’s a zero-sum game, 240 minutes. So somebody else’s opportunity comes at the expense of somebody else.”
• The Trail Blazers wrap up a seven-game homestand Thursday versus the Raptors in a game that expects to be tougher test than they’ve enduring during their current five-game winning streak. Toronto has the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 33-16 and have won 12 of their last 13 games going into Thursday’s contest.
“A dynamic backcourt, to begin with,” said Stotts of Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. “They’re both All-Stars, they both score the ball really well, they got to the basket, they get to the free throw line. That’s the first challenge. Secondly, they’re very well coached, they’re a good defensive team. You just sense they have a belief in their identity as far as what they have to do to win.”
While the Raptors do boast one of the better backcourt combinations in the NBA, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard was quick to point out that Portland’s starting guard combo ain’t too shabby either.
“DeMar is a good friend of mine, I know him pretty well, I know Kyle pretty well,” said Lillard. “They’re All-Stars, both of them are All-Star level players. It’s another challenge for me and CJ (McCollum) on both ends of the floor. I think it’s really important that we take the challenge defensively and go out there and guard those guys physically, be aggressive on them. But also on offense, we’ve got to go at them, just like we’ve done to everybody else. People talk about us having to guard big guards but people have to guard us, too. Nobody seems to mention that. We’re going to take the challenge defensively and we’re going to go after them on offense, too. So it’s going to be a huge game for us.”
Lillard also noted that, while the Raptors are certainly the best team Portland has played since during their soon to be completed homestand, they’re not at the level were they can assume any game is going to be a gimme.
“We aren’t in position to say that anybody isn’t an equal or better opponent,” said Lillard. “I just like how we’ve been locked in, how we’ve competed, we’ve executed offensively, tightened up a lot of things defensively. But going forward we’re going to be playing against some really good teams, especially Toronto tomorrow. Everything that we’ve done we’ve got to take it to even a higher level now.”
PORTLAND — Trail Blazers second-year power forward Noah Vonleh suffered a left ankle sprain in the third quarter of Tuesday night’s 107-95 victory versus the Milwaukee Bucks at the Moda Center. He did not return.
The injury seemed to occurred around the 7:24 mark of the third quarter. After trying to contest a shot, Vonleh landed awkwardly and immediately went to the floor in considerable pain, prompting head coach Terry Stotts to call a timeout in order to sub out the second-year power forward for Ed Davis.
“Khris Middleton was driving the baseline,” said Vonleh. “I went over to help and try to block the shot and I think Greg Monroe, he might have got under me.”
While Vonleh’s left ankle was noticeably swollen postgame, he said an x-ray showed no structural damage.
“They said there were no breaks,” said Vonleh. “It wasn’t nothing major, just a little swelling, it should go down pretty quick.”
Vonleh has played in 49 games this season and is averaging 3.7 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game. He’s started the last 38 games, an opportunity he was afforded due to Meyers Leonard injuring his shoulder early in the season. His status for Thursday night’s game versus the Raptors is to be determined.
Said Vonleh: “I’ve just got to play it by how I feel, see how I feel tomorrow morning.”
DENVER — The Portland Trail Blazers play their first game of 2016 Sunday night versus the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center (tipoff scheduled for 6 pm on CSNNW and Rip City Radio 620 AM), and with any luck, they’ll start out the new year with a completely healthy roster.
After missing the last six games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard reiterated after going through shootaround in Denver that he was close to making his return and could very well play in Sunday night’s game.
“Went over our sets, went over the other team’s stuff. All the real active stuff I did, all the shooting, running up and down, all that stuff,” said Lillard. “We’ll see closer to the game.”
Lillard experienced no issues with his left foot after going through a full practice Saturday before the team flew to Denver which, along with going through shootaround, would seem to indicate the 6-3 guard out of Weber State is ready to return to game action. Getting back into game shape after missing the last two weeks is likely the last hurdle Lillard has to clear before returning to the active list, which makes returning Sunday a bit tricky thanks to the thin mile-high air in Denver.
“That’s a lot harder than playing at a home game,” said Lillard on playing at elevation. “I’m going to come out before the game, I’m going to do a hard workout and see how I feel then.”
The Trail Blazers are 3-3 without Lillard in the lineup, which included a 110-103 victory versus the Nuggets at the Moda Center on Dec. 30. He had never missed a game in his NBA career prior to sitting out Portland’s last six contests. And luckily for the Trail Blazers, Sunday’s game is the second night of a back-to-back for the Nuggets, who lost in overtime to the Golden State Warriors in Oakland Saturday night.
While Lillard’s status for Sunday depends on how he feels after that pregame “hard workout,” starting center Mason Plumlee, who missed Saturday’s practice with a bout of gastroenteritis, said that he’s good to go versus the Nuggets after enduring a few days of gastrointestinal distress.
“It came on real quick, out of nowhere,” said Plumlee. “Without giving details, it’s been an ugly, ugly 48 hours, but I feel good now and ready to go.”
As for the Nuggets, power forward Kenneth Faried is listed as questionable with a “cervical injury” suffered Saturday night. Kostas Papanikolau is also doutbful with a left ankle sprain and rookie guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who led the Nuggets to victory versus the Trail Blazers in the last game between the two teams in Denver on Nov. 9, is out with a right ankle sprain.