It’s that time of year again. The playoff hopefuls are pushing their hardest, the playoff bound are resting up, and the playoff obsolete are doing whatever they damn well please. The Portland Trail Blazers have managed their way into the middle category with 3 games still remaining on their schedule. No matter what happens from here on out, a post-season awaits them. Although doing everything possible for a win is generally encouraged, it’s time for head coach Terry Stotts to rest the starters.
1) Injury prevention. Although players like Damian Lillard and Robin Lopez who haven’t missed a single game this season seem invincible, they’re not. Tweaked ankles, back spasms, sprained knees – all occur with regularity in the NBA. It’s best not to roll the dice with the post-season so close at hand. If nothing else, a reduction in minutes all around would be nice; if for no other reason than allowing Lillard’s career-long perfect attendance record to go unmarred. Some players (LaMarcus Aldridge) could use the rest more than others, but all of them should be protected. Stotts preemptively sat Mo Williams last night against the Sacramento Kings. Williams was likely the first to be given the night off because he’ll be running the show more and more as other players get their turn to relax.
2) Youth uprising. Speaking of the Kings game, did any of you see that unknown point guard light us up for 23 points? That was rookie Ray McCallum who has been starting in place of the injured Isaiah Thomas. He’s had a lot of success lately that has been great for him as a player and great for the organization to see what they’ve got. I would have no qualms with giving our rookies and sophomores the same sort of opportunity. A starting lineup of C.J. McCollum, Will Barton, Allen Crabbe, Thomas Robinson, and Meyers Leonard would cause most basketball fans to die a little on the inside, but letting a few of them have bigger roles in alternating fashion could awaken dormant aptitude.
3) Matchup tinkering. Yes, that is the technical term. As it stands, the Portland Trail Blazers are looking at the Houston Rockets in the first round. Dwight Howard is the bane of the Trail Blazers’ existence. There are no easy opponents (especially in the West), but any other team would make life easier. The only plausible way Houston and Portland don’t meet in the first round is if the Trail Blazers slide to 6th and are paired with the 3 seed instead of the 4. Given the circumstances, the aforementioned powerhouse starting five might not be such a bad idea. “Oops! We didn’t realize playing Will Barton 40 minutes a night would cause us to lose games. Don’t throw us into that Clippers briar patch!”
That last one might fall under the umbrella of ‘questionable tactics,’ but I would allow it. It’s a likely byproduct of the other two anyway. Of course, the Trail Blazers may find themselves winning games with their bench regardless. Crazier things have happened, and the 24-54 Jazz are next on the docket. The Pacers were able to beat the Bucks last night while resting all five starters, so I’m not ruling anything out. It’s likely that we won’t see every member of the starting five suit up in Utah, but no one will face a three game shutdown. The Trail Blazers’ last two games are in Portland and the home crowd should get their money’s worth, even if it is in (hopefully) smaller doses.