After their first day off since the start of training camp, the Portland Trail Blazers returned to practice Sunday morning at their facility in Tualatin. Some updates …
— Nicolas Batum continues to watch practice from the sidelines as he waits for the symptoms of a concussion suffered on October 8 to completely subside. Batum said he would have like to have practiced with the team on Sunday but was disallowed due to headaches, one of the most common side effects of concussion.
“I did a couple tests, came back on the floor to get some shots, because that’s the NBA protocol, I think,” said Batum. “I wanted to practice this morning but still got some headaches so I can’t to anything. I have to be, like, symptom-free to even, like, start running.”
Batum said he hoped to pass the tests required by the NBA’s concussion protocols on Monday and then return to full-contact practices on Tuesday, which is also the same day the team will travel to Utah to take on the Jazz on Wednesday.
— Joel Freeland, who drew praise from LaMarcus Aldridge for his defensive effort Friday night against the Jazz, sat out the second half of practice and will undergo x-rays on his right ring finger. Freeland experienced pain and swelling in the finger after getting hit in the hand while attempting a shot during practice.
“I went up for a shot inside the paint. I got hit by two or three people,” said Freeland. “It felt alright afterwards. I carried on through the practice a little bit but then it started getting worse and worse, so I stopped.”
This is not the first time Freeland has had issue with his right hand, as he was bothered during much of the 2013-13 season by a torn ligament in his right index finger. The injury did not require surgery, though he did wear a splint to protect the finger from further damage.
The nature and the severity of the injury won’t be known until after Freeland undergoes x-rays, which he is scheduled to do Sunday afternoon, though he sounded determined to play regardless of the prognosis.
“I’ve played with a broken hand before as well,” said Freeland, “so it’s not going to bother me.”
— In other injury news, Meyers Leonard (right strained foot), Earl Watson (left calf contusion) and Dorell Wright (right middle finger) all participated in practice, which head coach Terry Stotts categorized as “relatively light”, on Sunday. All three sat out Portland’s 96-86 victory against the Jazz in Boise, ID on Friday.
Stotts said, after an off-day on Saturday and a light practice on Sunday, that he expects Monday’s practice to be “high energy” and “pretty competitive.” If Watson and Wright are able to participate fully during that practice, it’s conceivable that both will play in Wednesday’s game in Utah, which would be the first preseason appearance this season for both players.
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.”
PORTLAND — When Nicolas Batum played against the Trail Blazers for the first time in his career earlier in the season, he led the Hornets to a blowout win versus his old team in Charlotte. Friday night at the Moda Center, Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers returned the favor.
Lillard scored 22 points to help Portland defeat Charlotte 109-91 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 to move to 22-26 on the season and 13-10 at home. The Trail Blazers are now 7-2 in their last nine games and have won eight consecutive home games against the Hornets.
After a first half that saw 14 lead changes and neither team take more than a seven-point lead, the Trail Blazers went on an 18-4 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth to blow the game open. Portland would expand their lead to 20 in the fourth before Charlotte made one last push, cutting the deficit to single digits with just over four minutes to play.
But the Trail Blazers would finish the game by outscoring the Hornets 9-2 to come away with an 18-point victory.
“I’m glad we closed the game the way we did,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They made their run, they got aggressive, I thought we missed some chances offensively and they got their momentum. I didn’t think it was anything that we couldn’t take care of but I’m glad that when they cut it down, we made the plays that we needed to make.”
Along with Lillard, the Trail Blazers had four other players score in double figures. CJ McCollum shook off a tough shooting start to finish with 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting, five rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes. Al-Farouq Aminu also finished with 17 points on seven made shots, but also added 12 points, two steals and an assist.
“I liked the tone he set early in the game defensively,” said Stotts of Aminu. “He really took the challenge of guarding Nic (Batum) and that was really good for us. Obviously, the scoring, the rebounding and the double-double speaks for itself, but I thought the biggest thing he gave us was setting the tone defensively.”
Mason Plumlee tallied his 13th double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds while also adding five assists, two steals and two blocks in just under 29 minutes.
Allen Crabbe came off the bench to score 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting and is averaging 16.5 points on 52 percent shooting in his last two games.
For as good as Batum was in the first game versus the team he spent his first seven seasons with, he was just as bad in his second attempt. The 6-9 Frenchman went 1-of-11 from the field for just five points and turned the ball over six times. Marvin Williams picked up some of that slack, scoring 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 shooting from three. Brian Roberts scored 17 points off the bench and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 13 points and seven rebounds in his first game back from missing the first part of the season with a shoulder injury.
Next up, the Trail Blazers near the end of their longest homestand by hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday night at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 pm.