TUALATIN, Ore. — Drowned out by the cheers for newcomer Gerald Wallace, muffled by the groans at the Portland Trail Blazers’ odorous performance, and muted by the boos aimed at the referees, was the Rose Garden’s collective gasp as LaMarcus Aldridge bee-lined for the locker room with knee “discomfort” during the second quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Hawks.
It is the joint that has plagued the Blazers for two seasons now; and one that continually strikes down Portland’s most integral players without mercy or empathy.
So was the organization’s freshly minted star about to become the latest victim?
“We were nervous,” said Brandon Roy, whose own knee issues have kept him out of 33 games this season.
Aldridge was a little nervous, too. He said he experienced a “sharp pain” that “came out of nowhere,” and acknowledged that when such agony comes on so suddenly, it’s often a serious problem. But he returned to the floor, subtly produced for the Blazers, and, most importantly — underwent an MRI on Monday that came back negative.
What he didn’t do was practice.
“It’s still a little bit sore. Still a little pain,” Aldridge said of his knee. “When I went out, it was really bad. Whenever you have to ask out of a game, it’s bad.”
That said, the forward — who refuses to ever acknowledge himself as a center because of the copious injuries that have plagued that position — does plan on playing tonight against the Rockets.
And so will Wallace. The question is: In what role … and with what fashion accessories?
The newly acquired forward has played with a headband since he came into the league, but did not sport one in his Blazers debut Sunday out of respect for Portland head coach Nate McMillan, who discourages players from wearing them.
But in addition to the nerves brought on by playing in a new jersey for the first time in seven years, Wallace said that Sunday, he just didn’t feel complete.
“Yeah, I felt like I was missing something when I was out there,” Wallace said.
Wallace said he will most likely play with a headband tonight, but his attire won’t be nearly as important as his assimilation.
His premiere, blended with Marcus Camby’s return and Roy’s evolving re-integration, seemed to discolor the Blazers’ identity Sunday.
The team was devoid of rhythm, efficiency, and according to Roy — effort.
“I thought our timing was off a little bit. A lot of things … adding Gerald to the mix, there was a lot going on,” Roy said. “But our effort wasn’t that good. If our effort is better, we won’t have to worry about plays and things like that, it will come naturally.”
But players still need to become more familiar with one another.
McMillan recounted a play from Sunday’s game, in which Rudy Fernandez tried to throw a bounce pass to Wallace on a fast break, where, had he known Wallace better, would have just lobbed it up for him to grab above the rim.
Oh, and it turns out that Fernandez was sent home Monday.
“Not because he was in trouble,” McMillan said. “He had a cold.”