Blazers have been fortunate when it comes to injuries

Portland deals with minor aches, pains as Pistons pay visit

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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TUALATIN, Ore. -- Before Portland Trail Blazer fans read this next line, they might want to crack their knuckles then find a hard surface.

Prepare to knock on wood, but this year in Blazerville has been a modest year in regards to injury reports. 

The good health can be seen throughout the team. On Friday afternoon after a light day at the practice facility, the patients appeared to be in bright spirits.

LaMarcus Aldridge (migraine and left hand) could be seen laughing with teammates before zipping out of the gym when reporters trotted in.

Meyers Leonard (right ankle sprain) playfully chased and threw a basketball at the backside of Joel Freeland.

And Wesley Matthews (left ankle, elbow, leg -- heck, basically, his entire left side) bowed and knocked three times on the hardwood when the conversation turned to how slight the injuries have been this year for his Blazers (30-34).

Just a glance at the Saturday night opponent, the Detroit Pistons, then a study of the team's matchups on the upcoming road trip (Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls) and Portland passes with a clean bill of health in comparison.

"We really haven't had a lot of guys miss a lot of games," coach Terry Stotts agreed. "LaMarcus has missed two and (we've) got some nagging injuries that a lot of teams have. Meyers has been one guy who's missed extended games but I would say that this has been a relatively light injury year."

Among the regular rotation players -- discounting Elliot Williams and his ACL season-ending injury last summer -- the physical damage has been markedly down, especially amid the core.

The Blazers have lost only 11 games due to injury to their starting five (Matthews 8 games, Aldridge 2, Nicolas Batum 1) and starting point guard Damian Lillard has played all 64 games.

Compare that to the 76ers -- who shipped away good players to land Andrew Bynum last summer only to watch him model new hairdos but no new post-moves as he has missed the entire season -- and the Bulls who have played Derrick Rose-less basketball for nearly a year now.

The Pistons (23-44), young and wounded, will be without core players Andre Drummond (back stress fracture) and Brandon Knight (ankle) when they visit the Rose Garden tonight.

So, struggle as they might with little depth, the Blazers have survived the injury bug. Even though the ankle seems to be the prevalent pain plaguing the Blazers, the many sprains and twists still cannot compare to that four-letter word: knee.

Through the constant sorrows of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden from 2008-2011, Trail Blazers fans became part-time physicians with their understanding of procedures like microfracture surgery.

Now, they're spoiled as they have concerned themselves on whether or not Batum's right wrist still hurts.

"Injuries are a part of any sport and unfortunately, Portland's been plagued with injuries and significant ones," Matthews said. "To only have nagging ones and for us to still be playing through them -- we have to play through pain. It's part of the job, it's what we signed up for and for the most part, I think we've done a good job with it."

As Portland knows, one major injury can shipwreck a season. Stotts, as well, can tell a story or two on this topic.

While in his second season as the Milwaukee Bucks head coach, Stotts' team had a 16-15 record on Jan. 1, 2007. Then, star player Michael Redd hurt his knee and the new year turned south.

"Michael Redd missed 20 games and he's our leading scorer," Stotts said. "And a week after Michael Redd went down, Mo Williams went down. He missed 10 games. So I was without my two leading scorers."

The team nosedived into a 3-19 funk.

"I got fired shortly thereafter," Stotts said.