By Candace Buckner
Columbian staff writer
PORTLAND — The doors to the Trail Blazers locker room opened up after their 99-80 Saturday night defeat and revealed a bruised, beaten and weary team.
J.J. Hickson sat thumbing through his phone, bags filled of ice cubes soothing both knees.
Joel Freeland wore gauze around his torso, wrapped so tightly it hugged him like a bikini.
“What happened to your shoulder,” teammate Sasha Pavlovic asked him.
“No,” Freeland responded. “Back.”
The medical attention paid to Hickson and Freeland could only be considered as preventative measures. The drudge of an NBA season can take a toll on a human body. After all, the team just endured a seven-game road trip.
But, after Saturday night, the Blazers have very real concerns, a double whammy of distress with starters Nicolas Batum (sore back) and Wesley Matthews (left hip contusion, left hip flexor strain) both leaving the game with injuries.
“It’s worse (from) when I started the game,” Batum said, his voice somber yet sounding an alarm for all Blazer fans.
“I wouldn’t be able to play tomorrow if we had a back to back,” Matthews said as he rubbed his hands together – and he shouldn’t be the only one concerned that his streak of playing 250 consecutive games could be endangered.
While Batum and Matthews need a day off, the rest of the Blazers (8-12) still have Sunday to recover and try to place a Band-Aid over their problems.
The Blazers returned to the Rose Garden for the first time since November 23, and looked too comfortable back home while committing nine first-quarter turnovers. Batum, who was a game-time decision, attempted to battle through the pain but threw away three possessions on his own and did not score before Luke Babbitt subbed in for him.
“I tried to attack (but) I feel like I have no power, no jump,” Batum said. “Each time I tried to push, my legs would go like I have no power. I couldn’t really move, couldn’t really run, couldn’t jump. So that’s why I turned the ball over like three times in the first five minutes because I was kind of lost. I couldn’t really do anything.”
Neither could his healthy teammates. Coach Terry Stotts used 10 players through that first quarter but the sloppy play continued with each lineup and Sacramento took the 30-18 lead.
“Well, nine turnovers in the first quarter got us off to a bad start,” Stotts said. “That set the tone for the rest of the game.”
In the second quarter, Babbitt nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the deficit in half. When Matthews returned to action and replaced Babbitt at the 7:47 mark, he moved to the small forward position and filled in nicely for Batum’s missing offense.
Matthews was active – driving for shots at the rim and drilling downtown jumpers – and the burst was the principal reason behind his 14 points.
During a ragged stretch when the Kings missed 14 of 16 shots, Matthews nailed a 3-pointer that tied the game. Still, the Kings held the 43-41 halftime edge.
That deficit would balloon through the third quarter and the Blazers’ problems grew worse.
John Salmons’ knee struck Matthews in his hip and forced him to leave with three minutes remaining in the quarter. While Matthews relaxed and iced up, Batum would soon join him.
Batum took a pass from Damian Lillard, faked the three and drove inside but met DeMarcus Cousins. Batum was charged with the offensive foul, but he had other pressing matters that left him holding his back and wincing on the floor in pain.
“I tried again. I just tried,” said Batum, who finished with five points in 17 minutes. “I hate to be on the side.”
But the soreness would ultimately keep Batum on the padded bench seats then send him to the training room.
The Rose Garden fell silent again with 9:56 remaining in the game when Matthews tried to make a simple cut but ended up on the floor in front of fans with courtside seats. Matthews would say later that he heard a pop, and for several moments, he did not move.
While teammates had already started changing out of their uniforms, Matthews finally wobbled back into the locker room. His left leg dragging behind like a convincing extra in a zombie movie.
Matthews pulled on his blue jeans, gingerly holding his stiff leg to place it inside, and groaned while reaching for his high-top sneakers. The pain was obvious. The man could barely dress himself. Still, when Matthews met with assembled reporters, he expressed more concern about the team’s troubling habits than his own plight.
“Just playing too casual, we play too cool. That’s our problem. It’s almost fool’s gold, some of the wins that we’ve had,” Matthews said. “We come back from 17 down, 15 down … It’s almost (like) we trick ourselves to think that we can always just do that. When we play against a tough team, we can’t do that every night. That’s not realistic in the NBA.”
KINGS 99, TRAIL BLAZERS 80
SACRAMENTO (99) — Salmons 6-10 4-5 19, Thompson 4-10 4-5 12, Cousins 6-17 7-8 19, Brooks 6-10 0-0 14, Garcia 5-13 0-0 12, Thornton 2-9 2-2 6, Thomas 2-5 0-0 5, Hayes 0-0 0-0 0, Robinson 0-2 1-2 1, Johnson 0-3 0-0 0, Outlaw 5-7 0-0 11. Totals 36-86 18-22 99.
PORTLAND (80) — Batum 1-5 2-2 5, Aldridge 5-14 7-8 17, Hickson 7-12 0-1 14, Lillard 5-13 0-1 12, Matthews 5-11 2-2 14, Freeland 1-1 0-0 2, Babbitt 3-9 1-2 9, Smith 0-2 0-0 0, Leonard 1-2 2-2 4, Jeffries 0-1 0-0 0, Price 0-3 0-0 0, Pavlovic 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 29-75 14-18 80.
Sacramento 30 13 34 22–99
Portland 18 23 24 15–80
3-Point Goals–Sacramento 9-19 (Salmons 3-4, Brooks 2-4, Garcia 2-5, Outlaw 1-1, Thomas 1-1, Cousins 0-1, Thornton 0-3), Portland 8-21 (Matthews 2-3, Lillard 2-5, Babbitt 2-5, Pavlovic 1-1, Batum 1-5, Price 0-2). Fouled Out–None. Rebounds–Sacramento 55 (Cousins 12), Portland 49 (Hickson 15). Assists–Sacramento 22 (Salmons 11), Portland 16 (Lillard 9). Total Fouls–Sacramento 16, Portland 23. A–19,454 (19,980).