I really never thought I’d say this, but I’m a little bit jealous of the Milwaukee Bucks right now. Saturday evening the Bucks, at the time a game out of the Playoffs, used a huge second half and a big bench contribution to turn a close game into a blowout, giving their post season chances a real shot in the arm. I would love to be able to write those same exact words about the Blazers. Maybe someday in the future.
When we look back at the 2011-12 season when it is finally over (which will be soon) the only reason anybody will talk about losing in Milwaukee on the second night of a back-to-back in early April is because the first night of that back-to-back the Blazers got one of their more impressive victories of the season.
What followed that victory, of course, was more talk about the Playoffs. Naturally what follows a loss like Saturday’s is speculation that Portland missed an opportunity to continue its Playoff push and so on and so on. Let’s be clear, the Blazers did not make the Playoffs by beating Dallas. (Although that would be a great new way to determine an NBA champ, a la professional boxing and wrestling. Beat the champs and you are the champs. That would mean there’s a chance at a new champion every night of the week. It would however, make the Playoffs completely irrelevant.) And they didn’t miss the Playoffs by losing to the Bucks.
The Blazers are trying to do two things during this stretch, one they’ve done well (compete), and one that might still be a work in progress (get the second unit guys a chance to run and improve). Coach Kaleb Canales has said the team, the staff, and everybody involved is taking the rest of this season one game at a time. That means they aren’t think ahead, and they’re playing in the moment. It also means that every game is going to be it’s own thing, with it’s own narrative, and it’s own cause and effect chain.
Saturday’s box score tells the story well enough for those Portlanders that choose to enjoy a sunny afternoon/evening and skip an altogether skip-able game. The plus/minus of Portland’s second unit guys with more than 10 minutes played looked like this: Jamal Crawford -10, J.J. Hickson -14, Luke Babbitt -21, Jonny Flynn -13. For the Bucks using the same perimeters: Beno Udrih +30, Ekpe Udoh +24, Mike Dunleavy +20, Larry Sanders +22.
The plus/minus differential was similar with the starting units, but not nearly as drastic. This game was won and lost by bench contributions. Luke Babbitt is under contract for next season, so he’s sticking around. Nolan Smith too, although Nolan picked the wrong time to get an ear infection and it seems the back-up point guard minutes are going to go to Jonny Flynn. The other bench guys are playing for next year, whether with Portland or elsewhere. Nights when they get badly outplayed by their opponents don’t help.
That said, they’re going to continue to get minutes. That’s the mandate Canales will follow. They’re not going to win and lose games every night, but if getting tagged by the Bucks’ bench in April 2012 means that Luke Babbitt improves his game enough to contribute in April 2013, I think the long-term gain outweighs the short-term loss.
One other story coming out of Saturday’s game is that Nicolas Batum is suffering from some lingering knee tendonitis. Conventional wisdom says that if it’s really bothering him (Saturday he was 4-of-8 from the field 1-of-5 from three for nine points) then he should shut it down.
Tendonitis, as those that have it or have had it will tell you, cannot be treated by surgery. If you took health in high school, you might be familiar with the acronym RICE. It stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. (Some add an S making it RICES, which isn’t a word. The S stands for Stabilization.) This is the protocol for dealing with basic injuries. The key to treatment of tendonitis is the R in RICE, followed by the I. Stay off of the limb that is experiencing pain, and following any use apply a regimen of ice. For Nic to get better, in short, he’s going to have to stop playing.
The nice thing about tendonitis, is that it isn’t like a fracture, or a ligament tear, or cartilage damage. It’s not the kind of injury that can get much worse by playing through it, and it’s not the kind of injury that can shave time off of a player’s career. Nic talked about not wanting to miss the Olympics when he jammed his knee in Utah a month or so ago, so he’s going to be playing this off-season. For Nic to get the rest he really needs, now might be a good time to start limiting his minutes. I doubt, however, that that will happen.
Nic’s a tough player, and as Matt Calkins has pointed out he is also a very honest player. If he says he wants to play, he’ll play. If he says he can play, he can play. If Nic’s health gets to be an issue, the fans will address it. I don’t think playing through pain and irritation for the closing nine games is going to kill Nicolas, but if we’re thinking long-term, getting him healthy should be very near the top of Portland’s list of priorities going forward.
Portland returns to the Rose Garden Monday to take on the Playoff-bound Houston Rockets. Monday’s game starts a run that includes three of Portland’s final four home games.
Since it’s Easter, I’ll leave it at that.
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