It's gloom for Batum on return to Rip City
Nicolas Batum sat glum-faced in the visitors locker room Friday night at Moda Center, surrounded by members of the media, his left foot in a bucket of ice.
The Trail Blazers had just laid waste to Batum and the Charlotte Hornets 109-91, and the game was a personal disaster for Batum, who was 1 for 11 from the field with six turnovers in 40 ineffective minutes. He finished with three points, eight assists, four rebounds and a stockpile of misery.
This wasn't the way the former Blazer envisioned his return to Portland as a Hornet.
When the teams first met on Nov. 15 in Charlotte, Batum -- sent to the Hornets in an off-season trade that brought Noah Vonleh to Portland -- was a whirlwind of motivation, bombing in 33 points in a 106-94 victory in which the Hornets led by 29 points in the third quarter.
But early this month, Batum jammed a big toe. Since then, he has missed four games, played six, missed three more and then tried to play the last two.
On Friday night, he played as if he should have been in street clothes.
"I haven't been 100 percent for the last four weeks," Batum said. "I didn't want to miss this game, though, even if I wasn't 100 percent."
Batum said he jammed the toe again in the first quarter. He looked uncomfortable running the rest of the way.
"It messed up my game," he said. "I can't really move. I kept trying to compete, but it was tough for me tonight. Tough for us. I've been trying to help this team since I got hurt, but I've been hurting us. We're in a tough position right now."
The Hornets, who looked like a playoff team at the start of the season, are now 22-25 and sinking. They're without four of their top seven starters -- centers Al Jefferson (knee) and Cody Zeller (shoulder) and guards Jeremy Linn (ankle) and Jeremy Lamb (toe). And that's not counting forward Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, who made his season's debut Friday after injuring a shoulder in the first preseason affair.
Batum has played well, ranking second on the team in scoring (14.5 points per game) while averaging 6.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists.
"He has helped us so much at both ends of the floor," Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. "Before he got hurt, he was playing at an All-Star level. He scores. He's a great passer. He has guarded primary scorers at times, and he rebounds well for his position. He has done a little bit of everything."
But the physical situation has taken its toll on the 6-8 Batum.
"(The left toe) is about three times bigger than the other one," said Batum, 27. "I have to talk to the medical staff about what I can do. I can't keep playing like that. I've (jammed) it three times already. We have to take care of it."
The Blazers enjoyed the reunion with Batum almost as much as they enjoyed beating him.
"It was good to see him, to talk to him," said point guard Damian Lillard, who had 22 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals. "But it's us against them. Somebody had to lose. I wanted it to be them."
The Blazers focused their defense on Batum and backcourt mate Kemba Walker, who made only 5 of 14 shots from the field and scored two points in the second half after scoring 12 before intermission.
Batum "exploded on us the first game," said Allen Crabbe, who came off the bench for 20 points in 32 minutes. "We made it a priority tonight to not let him get open looks, to get physical with him and stop him from doing what he did to us last game."
The Blazers (22-26) trailed 27-21 early in the second quarter, then ran off 12 straight points. They led 50-45 at halftime and surged into an 83-69 advantage after three quarters.
Portland's lead was 91-71 two minutes into the fourth quarter when the Hornets made a rally, using an 18-7 run to cut the difference to 98-89 with four minutes left. That was as close as they would get.
The highlight of the evening for Batum was the rousing ovation he received from fans during pregame introductions, rewarding him for seven seasons in a Blazer uniform.
"It was cool," Batum said, brightening up when asked about his reception. "I want to thank the fans of Rip City. They've always been nice to me. They showed some love to me again. I miss them."
Crabbe and CJ McCollum -- who scored 17 points after an 0-for-6 shooting start -- have emerged in the absence of Batum and Wesley Matthews, the latter now playing for Dallas.
"I'm not surprised," Batum said. "I told you (about them) a couple times the last two years.
"They have a chance now to show to this league who they are. They couldn't play the past two years because we had so many guys. Now they're getting a chance to showcase all their talent. I'm glad for them."
All of the four Blazers starters who departed after last season have made their returns. First LaMarcus Aldridge with San Antonio. Then Matthews. Then Robin Lopez with the New York Knicks. And now, finally, Batum, to close the chapter on an era.
"For all of the four starters, for us to come here one at a time OK, now it's over," Batum nodded.
The one remaining starter felt it, too.
"They've all come in and and it's been like, 'Man, we was all just playing here together last year,'" Lillard said. "Nic was the last guy. It's done now, and you just move on."
Batum was asked how he likes playing with the Hornets. He misunderstood the question, thinking it was directed toward his time with the Blazers.
"I loved it," he said, smiling. "I loved it. If you don't love here, you're weird. I know that Portland loves weird, but you're weird. I love it here."
NOTES: Portland, 7-2 in its last nine games, plays the fifth game of its seven-game homestand Sunday against Minnesota. The Blazers remained in eighth place in the West, percentage points ahead of Utah (21-25). Al-Farouq Aminu had one of his best games of the season, matching his season high with 17 points to go with 12 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season. Aminu also had primary defensive coverage on Batum. Portland has won eight straight at home against Charlotte. Center Mason Plumlee collected 13 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocked shots in 29 minutes. He notched his 13th double-double of the season. Portland coach Terry Stotts said he was "extremely disappointed" that Lillard wasn't named to the West squad for the NBA All-Star Game. "He deserved to be in it.," Stotts said. "I was disappointed with some of the selections. He's probably taking it better than I did."