TUALATIN, Ore. — The adjectives associated with most of the Trail Blazers’ starters will not promote confidence as the team seeks to break an eight-game losing streak tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nicolas Batum (right shoulder) remains “doubtful” to play, J.J. Hickson (sore lower back) enters as “questionable” and Wesley Matthews — the walking boot over his right foot should have been the proper indication that he is “out.”
Now would be a good time to create a “Keep Calm and Play The Rookies” meme.
Coach Terry Stotts admitted that the Blazers (33-44) could be forced to start four first-year players, with Victor Claver filling in for Batum and center Meyers Leonard anchoring the middle.
While the lineup has yet to be determined, rookie Damian Lillard will be a shoo-in to start his 78th straight game as point guard and the same goes for Will Barton, who will make his first NBA career start in place of Matthews.
“To be honest, I’m just happy to be starting in the NBA,” Barton said on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a dream come true.”
Barton gets the starting nod after playing his best game as a professional. On Sunday night, Barton registered career highs with 22 points, 13 rebounds, six assists as well as three steals and became the first rookie since Grant Hill (March 25, 1995) to record such a stat line.
Although the Blazers fell to the Dallas Mavericks 96-91, Stotts and several players credited Barton for energizing the team through the second-half comeback.
Portland trailed by as many as 26 points, however Barton capped his active performance by hitting a pair of free throws in the final 39 seconds to pull the Blazers to within three points.
“He had an historical night last game,” Stotts said. “It was a breakout game. I don’t think he’s going to catch the Lakers by surprise. It was quite a performance.”
Barton, the second-round pick in last summer’s draft, grew up on the East Coast but followed the Lakers.
Barton even calls Kobe Bryant his favorite childhood player. However, on the eve of making his starting debut against Bryant, Barton downplayed the significance.
“When I think about Kobe or the Lakers, I’m really thinking about getting a win,” Barton said. “I don’t want to do too much, just be one of the guys. Play through L.A. (LaMarcus Aldridge) and Dame and just get a win.”
Barton also would not take the bait when asked if he might feel compelled to match his Sunday night performance.
“Nah!” Barton said. “I don’t have to duplicate that. All I got to do is go out there and be one of the guys and blend in. If we get a win and I have two points, then I feel like I’ve done my job. As long as I go out there and play hard, giving effort and execute the gameplan and doing what coach wants me to do, I’m fine.”