Trail Blazers rookie guard CJ McCollum took questions from the media regarding breaking the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot during practice on Saturday. McCollum spoke to the media while on crutches and with his left foot in a boot.
Lead us through how you suffered the injury.
We were, I’d say, halfway through the practice, going through a little ball screen defensive drill. Live action. Coming off a ball screen off the sideline, close sideline, I faced the hard edge, had a hard edge coming out. Went for the throwback pass, just natural instincts, and stepped on the foot. Rolled it … in. Knew there was some pain, had felt it. I’ve twisted my ankle worse before, so didn’t really know. I thought it was just a little sprain, crawled off. Then I walked. It’s funny. I actually walked to the shower, walked to get the X-Ray, and then just waited for the news.
Sounds like you were surprised?
Yeah. I was definitely surprised. Just looking forward to the next steps and trying to figure everything out. Talking to doctors now.
Is there a plan for surgery?
We’re in the midst of that now. I was actually just speaking to one of the doctors just now before I came (to this interview). I’m going to go back and talk to him. Just talk through different options now. But as soon as possible, if it’s necessary.
Have they said whether your first injury and this injury are related?
We’re still not sure yet. I haven’t actually seen it on tape yet. I just remember the play. I’m going to watch it on film and then talk to two outside doctors, get their perspective on it before we make our next decision.
How disappointing is it?
It’s very disappointing. Coming in your rookie, being selected in the lottery. You want to come in and play and kind of prove yourself, earn your stripes. I was having a good training camp. I was playing well. I had been here … and then you go down with an injury. It’s tough. But at the same time, I’ve been through obstacles before and I look forward to bouncing back.
You had not experienced any setbacks or any pain or discomfort at all before the injury?
No. No pain, no nothing. Actually, we do testing daily on both feet. We test our heart rates, we test our workload. I was one of the more even guys in terms of strength and distribution between both feet. I was pretty much equal. Whereas there’s a lot of imbalances between other guys on the team. But things happen. Sometimes it’s out of your control. You just have to make the best of what you’re given.
Do you have a sense of how long you’ll be out and how much time you’ll miss?
No sense at all. But I look forward to returning.
How difficult was rehab the first time?
You have no idea. It’s a tough process. Basketball is a lot easier than rehab. But the best thing is I’ve been through it before. I know what I’m getting into now. I kind of know what to do, I know what to expect and I just look forward to the challenge. It’s a challenge getting to the NBA and there’s going to be injuries, there’s going to be stuff. You can’t help it. Sometimes it’s going to happen. But you just have to bounce back and do what it takes to be successful.
When you got the X-rays, when you heard the results, what was your reaction, what went through your mind?
Tough feeling. I was just very distraught. You work so hard to get to this level — they say it’s less than two percent chance of making it to the NBA and you make it. Coming off an injury it’s tough to get hurt again but at the same time, I’m not even supposed to be here, so an injury is just the last thing I’m worried about.
Coming off the injury the first time how long did it take where you felt like you were back?
I’m not sure. We end up losing early at Lehigh. We end up losing early so I’m not sure if I would have been able to come or not just because of the situation I was in. But at the same time this is a different level now. You’re dealing with the best doctors in the world, the best training staff, the best facility. So I’m sure I’ll be okay.
How did they treat it the first time? Did you have a screw or anything inserted into the foot?
Yes I did have a screw in the foot.
So you had surgery to insert a screw and they removed that afterwards?
No, the screw is still in place. It’s still there. The screw is perfectly fine.
Complicates things the second time around?
No. No, I don’t think so.
After you finished the first rehab have you had any pain at all in the last couple months?
No. It’s ironic, no pain. As I said before, I actually did some testing in the morning. We always do random, he did random tests on both feet, explosion and how quickly you get off the floor, lateral quickness. I did all that stuff.
Who was with you when you heard the news?
I was by myself.
Pain this time around as opposed to last time?
It wasn’t the same. When I broke my foot at Lehigh it was … I cried it hurt so bad. I cried. Didn’t hurt as bad this time.
How important is it that you still be involved with the team?
I discussed that with Coach Terry, some of the other coaches as well. That’s the biggest thing for me. I told them to treat me like the rest of the players that are healthy. I want to continue to learn, I’m going to be on the court. I take this game very seriously in terms of taking care of my body, eating the right stuff, lifting, making sure that I’m watching film and doing all the things necessary to make sure when I come back it’s a smooth transition.
Where are the doctors you’ll have to visit for the second opinion?
There’s a really good doctor in California. There’s a really good doctor in Charlotte.
Having gone through rehab once before anything different you would do this time around?
I’m more prepared, more mature. I know what I’m getting myself into, whereas before it was more of an experiment. I had never been hurt, I had never missed a game in my life. Now I know what I’m getting myself into.
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 — It’s probably too early in the season to spend much time scoreboard watching with an eye on the the Western Conference standings. But after the Trail Blazers’ 112-97 victory versus the Kings in front of a sellout crowd of 19,390 Tuesday night at the Moda Center, there’s nothing wrong with pointing out the obvious: If the playoff started today, the Trail Blazers would be in.
“It sounds good today,” said Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard of Portland’s current standing in the West. “Everybody in here would like to stay in that spot, maybe move up. We’ve just got to stick with it. You can’t act like we made the playoffs just because if it started today we’d be in.”
Tuesday night’s win moved the Trail Blazers into the 8th spot in the West with a 21-26 record overall and a 12-10 mark at home this season. The win is Portland’s fourth-straight versus the Kings and their fifth consecutive home win.
Tuesday’s game was a close affair through the first half. Portland build a seven-point lead in the first quarter and a nine-point lead in the second, though Sacramento was always able to answer. It was until late in the third quarter that the Trail Blazers were able to extend their lead to double digits. Portland outscored Sacramento 14-7 in the final 3:19 of the third to take a 14-point lead into the fourth. From there, Portland would extend their lead to as many as 22 before winning by 15 against a team that was obviously gassed after losing in double overtime the night before.
“We started off pretty strong,” said CJ McCollum. “I think defensively we had a really good second quarter, kept them under 100 for our defensive rating for the quarter. We knew as the game wore on they’d be a little more tired. Cousins had a heavy load in that double overtime, so wanted to try run them as much as we could after we got stops. I think, down the stretch, we did a better job of getting stops and getting easy baskets.”
The Trail Blazers had seven players finish in double figures Tuesday night for the first time this season. McCollum led the way with a game-high 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field , five assists and a rebound in 29 minutes. Lillard, who assisted on seven of Portland’s first 10 field goals, finished with 15 points, a career-high tying 13 assists and five rebounds in just under 33 minutes.
While the backcourt led the team in scoring, it was Portland’s big man platoon that made the biggest difference Tuesday night. Along with holding Kings center DeMarcus Cousins to his worst shooting night of the season (17 points on 4-of-21 shooting), Portland’s power forwards and centers combined to score 41 of Portland’s 112 points.
“Our bigs did a great job,” said Lillard. “They played physical from the jump. They took the challenge… We have to give a lot of credit to our bigs for how physical they played. They challenged shots, they took fouls when they needed to. They just did a great job and that gave us a chance to win.”
Mason Plumlee finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes, Noah Vonleh had one of his best performance in the NBA with 10 points, seven assists and a career-high tying two blocks in 22 minutes. Ed Davis went 4-of-5 from the field to finished with 11 points and four rebounds. And Meyers Leonard played 24 minutes, with much of that time spent fighting in the block with Cousins, to finish with nine points and seven rebounds.
“(Cousins) is a very good player, able to score in many ways – down on the block, on the perimeter, etcetera,” said Leonard. “But I thought for the most part, I did a good job on him and the rest of the guys did a good job on him – the guards digging, double team schemes a couple times, so we were really locked in to what we needed to do tonight and it was just a great team effort.”
Cousins was reluctant to give Leonard and the Trail Blazers the credit for his poor shooting night after scoring a combined 104 points in the previous two games before Tuesday’s loss.
“I could tell what their scheme was: to try to frustrate me,” said Cousins. “Leonard took advantage of the situation a little bit more. If you want to credit them, go ahead. A lot of shots didn’t fall. I don’t feel like we had a good flow offensively. There’s a lot of factors there. Even with that being said, early in the game, I thought we had a good chance to pull in a win. We just didn’t.”
Portland got stellar production from their reserve wings Tuesday night as well, with Gerald Henderson scoring 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting and Allen Crabbe adding 13 points and three rebounds on 27 minutes.
Kings point guard Rajon Rondo finished with 15 points and 11 assists and rookie Willie Cauley-Stein added 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
Next up, the Trail Blazers continue their longest homestand of the season by hosting Nicolas Batum at the Charlotte Hornets Friday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.