HANG TIME WEST – It’s only fair, right?
This is the start of the payback for Greg Oden and his knees, for Brandon Roy and his knees, for years of potential that never was reached — and never will be. This is for 2012-13 and a lot of pieces chipping off in small bits that turned a promising first half into the team-record 13-game losing streak at the end, enough to fool some people into believing the Trail Blazers were not ready to ascend the next step to the playoffs this season. This is a long time coming.
Thirty-seven games into the season, the Blazers have used one opening lineup. In a season when many prominent players have been hurt and some opponents deeply wounded by injuries, Portland, of all teams, is the one living under the right star. Rookie C.J. McCollum missed the first 34 with a fractured left foot and was held out of another on a coach’s decision, but otherwise, the projected rotation has mostly remained intact and the starters have been in cement.
Damian Lillard at point guard.
Wesley Matthews at shooting guard.
Nicolas Batum at small forward.
LaMarcus Aldridge at power forward.
Robin Lopez at center.
All 28 wins, each step up the ladder to a tie for the second-best record in the Western Conference and tie for third best in the league, every redemptive moment after years of missing the playoffs and the fates conspiring against the Trail Blazers with health woes that changed the direction of a franchise.
“That’s a huge turnaround,” Batum said. “The last couple years, a lot has changed. We got a new coaching staff, got a new GM, got new players, got a lot of new things. This is a new era. The old injury era, I think, is over. I hope it’s over. It’s different now.”
Knock on wood. Literally.
“We talk about it,” Batum, a Blazer since 2008-09, said of the new good fortune. “We (have) had no injury yet” – he reaches out with his left hand and taps a wooden wall of the adjacent locker – “so that’s good. That’s good. We need everybody on the court.”
Even the top reserve, guard Mo Williams, has missed only one game. The reserve big man averaging the most minutes, Joel Freeland, has missed one. Now, the return of McCollum adds to the stability.
“Health is a big thing in the NBA, no matter who it is,” coach Terry Stotts said. “A lot of people point to the fact that we’ve played our starting lineup every game and that they’re averaging 30-something minutes a piece as a negative, and I view it as a positive because they take good care of themselves. It’s been very important for our consistency, our rotation. It’s been a big part of why we are where we are.
“We can sit over a beer and talk about the minutes. But if you look at each one of our starters’ minutes unto itself, I’d argue that none of them are playing an exorbitant amount of minutes. Wesley Matthews, who’s one of the top five shooting guards in the league, is averaging 34 minutes. I don’t think that’s exorbitant. L.A.’s averaging less minutes this year than he has in three or four previous seasons. Nic Batum’s down three minutes from last year. Damian’s down to 36. You look on how they compare to other players around the league at their position, I don’t think any of them are playing a lot of minutes. The fact is, we’ve been fortunate enough that they’ve all been healthy enough to play the minutes that they’re playing.”
It’s only fair, right?