Costly win for Blazers -- RoLo breaks hand
A pall cast over the Trail Blazers' locker room after a 108-95 victory over San Antonio Monday night at the Moda Center, and it had nothing to do with the outcome.
Portland center Robin Lopez sat by his locker with a wrap around a splint covering his right hand, which suffered a pair of broken bones when the hand hit the head of Spurs forward Boris Diaw going for a third-quarter rebound.
Lopez will be lost to the team indefinitely.
"I don't like it. I don't like it. I don't like it," teammate LaMarcus Aldridge said. "That's it. Can't get past 'I don't like it.' He's such a big part of our identity. He does so many things people don't notice. He's a hard worker, a guy that does things nobody else does in the first unit.
"As soon as I got back from the end of the game, I went looking for him. I was going to go by his house if I didn't see him. But I saw him in the locker room. He had the little cast on."
Lopez will end a streak of having played in 265 straight games dating to late in the 2010-11 season, when he was with Phoenix. The 7-foot center played in all 93 regular-season and playoff games last season and has been in 128 straight games in a Portland uniform since coming to the Blazers in a trade with New Orleans before the 2013-14 season.
"It's a little frustrating, but I've been pretty fortunate," the seventh-year pro told the media. "I haven't missed a game since my third year (2010-11) in the league."
This season, the 7-foot Lopez was averaging 9.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 33 minutes a game, shooting a team-best .505 from the field and .804 from the foul line.
"Sometimes he'll stuff the stat sheet, but what Rolo provides is not something you can necessarily put on a stat sheet," teammate Wesley Matthews said. "His talk, his activity, his unselfishness, his energy -- we'll have our work cut out for us trying to replace that."
Lopez said he didn't think he had broken the hand.
"It didn't hurt, actually," he said. "I thought maybe I just jammed it. It felt a little weak. I tried to play through it, but I never got any strength back."
Aldridge and Damian Lillard scored 23 points apiece as Portland (19-6) beat a skeleton San Antonio crew, with a trio of starters and sixth-man guard Manu Ginobili on the sidelines in the second of back-to-back games after earning a 99-91 victory at Denver on Sunday.
Tony Parker missed his fourth game in five outings with a sore hamstring. Coach Gregg Popovich said Ginobili "reinjured a hip and his back" against the Nuggets. Center Tiago Splitter is just getting back after missing the first 20 games with a strained calf. "I can't chance his calf in a back-to-back," Popovich said.
"The only guy we're just resting is Timmy" Duncan, said Popovich, whose defending NBA champions (17-8) are in the midst of a five-games-in-seven-days stretch.
That set the stage for a strange matchup, with only two of San Antonio's top six -- forward Kawhi Leonard and guard Danny Green -- in uniform.
Even so, Portland coach Terry Stotts offered, "I don't know if anybody expected us to blow them out. Five, six, seven of their guys were instrumental in the playoffs last year. They've won games with those guys before. We knew it wasn't going to be easy."
The Spurs led only once -- at 18-16 late in the first quarter -- but hung around to make it interesting until the final minutes.
San Antonio trailed only 94-88 when Nicolas Batum drilled a 3-pointer with 4:36 to play. That touched off a 10-2 run that pushed the Blazers in front 104-90, and the issue was finally decided.
"This wasn't the game we expected, with their players out," Stotts said. "But we won every quarter, did what we needed to do to win the game. We could have played better, but you want to come away with the win, and we did."
Aldridge made only 2 of 7 shots from the field in the first half and had four points and three rebounds at halftime. He caught fire in the second half, finishing with 14 boards and scoring 19 of his points after intermission.
"We started a little sluggish, myself included," Aldridge said. "I fought through it and played better the second half."
Lillard grabbed Portland's first four rebounds of the game and finished with a career-high 10 boards along with six assists in his 34 minutes.
"I liked the way he went after some defensive rebounds," Stotts said. "We've talked about getting rebounds from the guard position. He went after them tonight. And he played with a lot of determination taking it to the basket."
The Blazers have had a stretch of good fortune through this season and last with injuries. Now Lopez will miss a significant amount of time.
"I don't even want to think about it," Lillard said. "Rolo covers up a lot of our mistakes. He's the most unselfish guy on our team. It's going to be tough without him. Everybody in the locker room hates to see him not playing because of an injury."
"It's going to be different," Matthews said. "It's going to be an adjustment. Everybody's going to have to step up his defense. We just have to work that much harder."
The loss of Lopez opens up playing time opportunity for such bigs as Chris Kaman, Joel Freeland and Thomas Robinson. Aldridge may even play some minutes in the post.
"Maybe I have to get more rebounds now," Aldridge said. "I'll try to cover the basket more. He's our rim-protector, a guy who clogs the paint. I'll take the role more, but we have guys who can help cover for him."
For the time being, Lopez will be a cheerleader from the bench.
"We've been playing so well, and I've been having such a great time being a part of this team -- which I plan to still be," he said. "I'm just going to have to do that from the sidelines. That will be a little frustrating, but we have a plethora of big men. We'll be fine."
NOTES: The Blazers are 10-2 in their last 12 home meetings with the Spurs dating to the 2008-09 season. Portland will face San Antonio twice in five days. The Blazers play host to Milwaukee on Wednesday, then start a difficult four-game road trip at AT&T Center on Friday. Matthews, asked if there was any disappointment about not facing the full lineup of the team that knocked Portland out of the playoffs in the second round last season: "I'm sure we will on Friday." Stotts wouldn't commit to a replacement for Lopez in the starting lineup. "I'll make that decision (Tuesday) or Wednesday," he said. The likely candidate would be Freeland. Stotts probably will want to keep Kaman's firepower off the bench. Stotts, asked if he would consider resting his starters for complete games as does Popovich: "No. When Tim Duncan was 26, he was playing 40 minutes a game. If I had a 38-year-old, I'd look to do that. Our guys are all in their prime. When guys are in their prime, they should play."
Portland guard C.J. McCollum, who has missed the last 14 games with a broken finger, is close to a return. "He's making good progress," Stotts said. "We're being cautious, but he's cleared to handle the ball now, so he's able to shoot and dribble." Said McCollum: "I'm getting some workouts in. The ball feels good leaving my hands. In terms of contact, I felt like I was ready a couple of days ago. Whenever they allow me to get back out there, I will. I should be playing here shortly -- before the week's over. I'm good to go, as long as I can get a practice in and the coaches can see me." Portland had 18 assists, ending its NBA-best streak of 24 games with at least 20 assists in every game to start the season. The Blazers were the first team to achieve that number in at least the first 20 games since Utah in 2007-08. "I'm very proud of that," Stotts said. "We're sharing the ball." Stotts was asked if the Trail Blazers are trying to emulate the San Antonio model. "Modeling after five-time champions?" Stotts asked, smiling. "Yeah, I'd go for that."
Aldridge got his 13th double-double, including 10 games of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, third-best in the NBA. The Spurs play 18 games in December, including seven back-to-backs, "which is ridiculous," Popovich said. "But nobody cares. You can't cry about it. You just play the games and see what happens." The Spurs were down to one point guard -- Cory Joseph -- Monday night. He had 12 points and five assists in 37 minutes. Asked pregame who Joseph's backup would be, Popovich quipped, "I don't know. Anybody. A body." Ex-Blazer Patty Mills, who has been out all season due to July shoulder surgery, was on the trip with the Spurs. "He won't return until sometime in January," Popovich said, "but we want to start getting him reacquainted with the group."