COMMENTARY | Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are nursing injuries. J.J. Hickson is not putting up the same numbers he was early on. The bench is still non-existent. The losing streak has reached five games.
And with all that, the Portland Trail Blazers had to be as happy as any team in the NBA to see the All-Star break finally arrive.
It's been a rough couple of weeks for the Blazers, who lost Matthews to an ankle injury 90 seconds into Wednesday night's game against the New Orleans Hornets, then lost game No. 5 in a row in not-even-close fashion, falling 99-63 in their sixth consecutive road game.
If you hadn't already, you realized that night just how precarious Portland's run has been this season. Make no mistake, a 25-28 record at this point of the season is impressive for the rebuilding Blazers. But the early season success has raised expectations a bit, with thoughts of a playoff spot dancing through fans' heads.
It's still possible. But don't look over your shoulder, because while the Blazers have fallen three games behind the Houston Rockets for eighth place in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers are just a half-game behind Portland, and the Dallas Mavericks are only another game back of L.A.
Portland can regain its footing here, but a few things need to happen:
-- The Blazers need to get healthy. Batum has been playing through a sore wrist that has affected his shooting, and Matthews has that ankle injury that knocked him out of the Hornets' game. As much as Portland relies on its starters, the team will need to come out of the break with those two rested and at least mostly recovered.
-- The Blazers need to stop relying on their starters so much. Coach Terry Stotts has to identify a couple of reserves he's going to decide to trust enough to play some regular minutes so he can stop running the starters into the ground.
-- The Blazers need to make a deal or two to boost their depth. Reports have indicated Portland might be interested in the San Antonio Spurs' DeJuan Blair, and while he would be a nice fit in Portland, it remains to be seen if the Blazers have the right pieces to make a deal. But with the number of bench guys who simply don't appear to be working out in Portland, the team really needs to do something if it's still going to take a run at the playoffs this season.
If the Blazers can manage any combination of those things -- and preferably all three -- the playoffs are still a very real possibility.
But fail to do any of the three, and Portland might be headed for more losing streaks in the near future.
Adam Sparks has followed the Portland Trail Blazers since the early 1980s, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2009.
- Sports & Recreation
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Wesley Matthews