Notebook: Outlaw goes out, Howard comes in

PORTLAND — Portland Trail Blazers forward Travis Outlaw underwent successful surgery Wednesday morning to address a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot, according to the team.

However, Outlaw is expected to miss 3-5 months, which is much longer than originally anticipated.

The timetable for Outlaw’s return now falls in line with injured starting small forward Nicolas Batum, who had surgery on his right shoulder Oct. 30 and is expected to be out through February.

Now, the Blazers could be without Outlaw and Batum for nearly the entire 2009-10 regular season.

“We’ve lost a lot with the loss of Nicolas and Travis,” said Blazers coach Nate McMillan, prior to the start of Portland’s game Wednesday night against the Detroit Pistons at the Rose Garden.

Outlaw averaged 9.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 21 minutes through 11 games. He alternated between the small and power forward positions, and was a regular back up for Brandon Roy and Martell Webster. In addition, Outlaw was one of the key members of a Blazers second unit that was considered among the top in the league, and had helped key Portland’s fast start.

McMillan referred to Outlaw as a player who takes “big shots,” and added that he gave the Blazers the ability to spread the floor and create offensive and defensive mismatches.

The Blazers will primarily turn to veteran forward Juwan Howard to replace Outlaw. Rookie Dante Cunningham is unlikely to see much of an increase in playing time, even though he is slated as a back up power forward on the team’s roster.

McMillan said Portland becomes a bigger — but much slower — team with Outlaw out of the second unit. Moreover, Portland’s finishing unit is significantly altered, since Outlaw is no longer available to team up with guard Brandon Roy during the fourth quarter as Blazers who can create their own shots.

“It’s a huge change for us, from what we’ve been accustomed to since I’ve been here,” McMillan said.

As a result, Portland will turn to LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden in the attempt to find another player who can deliver late.

When asked whether the Blazers will try to add a new player through a trade or signing, McMillan said Portland’s roster is filled with 15 players, and that the only way the Blazers could pick up someone to fill in for Outlaw and Batum would be by trading or cutting a player currently in uniform.

“We’re going to go with the guys we got,” McMillan said.

Still starting

McMillan said he plans to stick with a starting unit featuring point guards Andre Miller and Steve Blake in the same lineup for the foreseeable future.

“That’s our lineup,” McMillan said. “That’s where we are right now.”

McMillan said he likes what he has seen from the Miller-Blake combination — citing improved defensive play and better ball movement — but added that he wants Portland’s starters to push the tempo more.

Miller was inserted into the Blazers’ starting lineup Nov. 6. Portland has gone 6-1 during the stretch.

Sticking around

When the Blazers signed Howard during the offseason, it was widely expected the 15-year veteran forward would make more of an impact in the locker room than on the court.

However, with three forwards out with significant injuries, Portland has been forced to turn to Howard early and often this season. And Howard’s minutes and role on the team should only increase during the next few months.

The former University of Michigan standout was impressive during training camp and has followed through during the early season. And he has drawn praise from McMillan for his work ethic, physical strength and mental focus.

“My goal is to go out there and give what I can, and give my best for the team,” Howard said. “That being said, I’m a very prideful individual. I compete and I’m competitive, and I have passion and love for the game. You put all that together, and that’s why, of course, I’m still in this league.”

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