DALLAS – Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum is clearly battling pain in his ailing right wrist.
It has recently hampered the all-around solid play he’s delivered this season to a Blazers team that lacks depth and desperately needs his versatility to remain in playoff contention. He’s averaging just 9.8 ppg since he hurt his wrist going for a dunk during a Jan. 19 practice, and in the three games since an MRI revealed no structural damage, the forward has averaged just 7.0 ppg and he’s taken just 18 total shots.
In the days after the initial injury, Batum posted a pair of triple-doubles in the span of three games and he fell one assist shy of a third triple-double last Saturday night at Utah. However, in the two games sandwiched around it, he’s managed nine points and nine rebounds.
After scoring in single digits in just six of the first 38 games, he’s done it now four times in the last nine games, three times in the last five and in two of the last three.
At Minnesota on Monday, he had just four points, three rebounds and two assists in 35 grimacing minutes. Afterward he told the The Oregonian:
“It doesn’t always really bother me, but today it was really painful. I was really scared about every contact.”
Tonight, the Blazers, who at 25-23 are one game back of Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot, play at Dallas (8:30 ET, League Pass).
“I’ll use him the same way as we usually do and if the ball swings to him and he doesn’t feel comfortable shooting, he can still make plays off the dribble,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of Batum after the team’s Tuesday practice in Dallas. “It’s just a matter of time before it starts feeling better, but he needs to be productive in other ways and that’s as much as he can do. I may or may not run the same type of things for him, but he still needs to do what he can do.”
Batum, 24, has delivered on his big payday during the offseason. Portland matched Minnesota’s four-year offer sheet and signed Batum to a deal worth more than $43 million. He’s increased his production in several areas to career highs. His scoring average (15.7 ppg) is up nearly two points a game and his assists have risen from 1.4 last season to 4.9 this season, second behind rookie point guard Damian Lillard. His 6.1 rpg are up 1.5 over last season and he’s also averaging career highs in steals (1.4) and blocks (1.8).
Illustrating just how thin the Blazers’ bench is, Batum is on the high end (38.8 mpg) among three Blazers, including Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, who average more than 38 minutes. Going without their third-leading scorer and most versatile player for any extended period of time would diminish Portland’s playoffs hopes.
For now, Batum is expected to continue to play, and Stotts will look for small contributions from others to pick up the slack.
“I think everybody has to do a little bit more,” Stotts said. “I don’t think one guy has to do a lot more, just everybody has to do a little bit more.”