Apr 14, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Portland Trailblazers forward Joel Freeland (19) before the first half against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Freeland Injury May Force Terry Stotts' Hand

Lost to the cutting room floor of the Blazers’ home-opener recap is the fact that Joel Freeland suffered a hip strain in the 2nd quarter of Portland’s victory. Did anyone else notice that when the Blazers took a full timeout with about 3 minutes to play in the half it was the last time Freeland saw the court? He played a grand total of 8 minutes and 15 seconds. More importantly, Robin Lopez played the other 39 minutes and 45 seconds, leaving Meyers Leonard to watch from the bench, despite the shortage of available centers.

In all 82 games with New Orleans last season, Robin Lopez only played this many minutes in two outings; one of which went into overtime. He has never been depended on this heavily, and head coach Terry Stotts’ unwillingness to relieve him with Meyers Leonard says three things: 1) Existing defense will be prioritized over development, 2) Robin Lopez can be trusted to provide said defense, and 3) Meyers Leonard lost more ground than we thought when Freeland took his backup role.

So where does this put the Blazers moving forward? According to the Trail Blazers PR, Freeland is listed as day-to-day, but what happens if he’s not ready to take the court against the Rockets on Tuesday? Houston has unarguably the most stacked 5 spot in the league, boasting both Dwight Howard and Omer Asik. My faith in Robin Lopez is growing a little each night, but he can’t be expected to play 48 minutes, nor can Meyers Leonard be trusted with 1 or 2. Seemingly overnight, Joel Freeland has become crucial to Portland’s success.

Should Freeland miss the Houston game, we will see exactly how much it takes for Stotts’ to throw Leonard a bone. He can’t play LaMarcus Aldridge at center to relieve Robin Lopez if Aldridge is already logging heavy minutes at power forward. Will we see Thomas Robinson’s minutes extended to make that work? Or will we see Meyers Leonard offered up as a sacrificial lamb to the almighty Howard? How much will Stotts adjust the rotation to keep Leonard off of the floor? It seems a preference if not a necessity at this juncture.

Of course, if Joel Freeland is able to play in time, the Blazers will have dodged a bullet. But, in this metaphor, physics do not apply and there’s some Wanted level curvature bringing that sucker back around. Eventually the Trail Blazers will have to rely on Meyers Leonard, and it would behoove them to prepare him for the occasion. If it turns out that’s tomorrow, the Blazers may regret letting him learn by watching instead of doing. It’s all fun and games until somebody strains a hip.

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Tags: Joel Freeland Meyers Leonard Portland Trail Blazers Robin Lopez

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