Wrist injury has Blazers' Batum handcuffed

Forward suffered the injury in practice in January

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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TUALATIN, Ore. — Nicolas Batum exhaled and slumped back in his chair.

Just moments removed from the Trail Blazers' Tuesday night loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, when Batum had flashed moments of frustration by throwing a fist in the air and sulking on the sideline with his head in his hands, he was now drained.

Really, fed up would be more like it. The root of his shooting woes had reared again as Batum's injured right wrist betrayed him during one of his most putrid offensive nights of the season.

"I tried to shoot it and don't think about it, just shoot it. But every time the same," Batum said, then repeated. "Every. Time."

Since January, Batum has played through the sting shooting from his dominant wrist — the wrist that allowed him to average 16.9 points through nearly the first half of the season and rank fourth in the league in made 3-pointers. He was performing like the player the Blazers expected when they signed him to a four-year deal worth $46.1 million.

However since that Jan. 19 wrist injury, sustained during a workout before the 39th game of the season, an unusual Batum has emerged. And this one can't seem to find the target.

Seven of Batum's 10 lowest scoring nights this season have come since he publicly acknowledged the injury.

"Last week I talked with Tony Parker in San Antonio and he can feel it, too," Batum said, referring to his friend and French national teammate. "He told me, 'you're not the same. I know you — you're different.'"

Although Batum's rebounding and assist totals have climbed, his shooting percentage and scoring average have skidded.

On Tuesday night, his right wrist secured in a brace, Batum attempted five shots all game. Three clanked off the rim, one got blocked, and the other bounced off the top of the backboard. Although he has endured other tough nights, for the first time this season he finished a game without making a field goal.

"We need him to be aggressive; we need him to shoot the ball with confidence," coach Terry Stotts said about Batum, whose scoring average has dipped to 14.8. "We need him to be able to drive and run. For whatever reason, it's not there right now."

While his no-show appearance ate at him through the night, Batum got up early Wednesday morning and headed to the Blazers' practice facility. He wanted to shoot 500 shots, and do so without his customary black, strappy brace.

Batum bricked some jumpers, he airballed a couple, too. However, by his count, Batum drained 350 shots and continued without his aid when the regular practice session picked up.

"Now, I've got to put ice on it because this is on fire right now," Batum said after practice, and even flashing a smile that was nowhere in sight on Tuesday.

Inspired by the shooting session, Batum said that he plans to play Thursday night against the New York Knicks without the brace.

"I think just gaining confidence of repetition, of practice. Sometimes during the season you get away from that and it's always good to get back to that," Stotts said. "It was his idea to wear the brace and I think he's got to do whatever he feels comfortable (with). It's his wrist, it's his body. He knows what he's feeling."

So, there will be no tape and no brace. Also, no more talk about the wrist.

On Wednesday, Batum repeated his declaration from the previous night that he will stop focusing on the injury.

"I can't. I've been talking about it for the last two months," he said. "I have to move now. Move forward."