Column: As missed games pile up, Blazers continue to overachieve
The milestone will largely be ignored. Just another number in a sports world already filled to the brim and spilling over with statistics, figures and numerical facts.
Nevertheless, it deserves respect. Honor. A moment of silence in acknowledgment of its passing.
Pause. Drum roll. Flags up.
Here’s to you, 200.
Tonight, the Portland Trail Blazers will take on the Boston Celtics. In doing so, the Blazers will move past 200 games missed due to injury.
Portland stood on the precipice Wednesday, resting at 199 following a 98-90 road victory over Philadelphia.
But tonight’s the night. Two hundred. A whole new world.
And the credit doesn’t go just to one person, it gets passed around.
Putting the Blazers over the top: Brandon Roy, Nicolas Batum, Travis Outlaw, Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden.
Barring another strained hamstring or fractured patella, Portland’s total days on the job lost to injury will hit 204 tonight.
And that’s where a little-tongue-in-cheek humor becomes fairly serious.
The 2008-09 Blazers missed 205 games due to injury. And that total was seriously inflated, thanks to the 82 contests a mysterious figure known only as “Raef LaFrentz” sat out due to an injured right shoulder.
This season’s Blazers will stand within one missed game of last year’s total after exiting the court tonight at the TD Garden in Boston. Then they will pass it Saturday in Detroit. And by April, Portland will have made last season’s number look immensely miniscule.
Where will the Blazers end up?
How about 350?
Realistically, anything below 500 is a safe bet, considering centers Oden and Przybilla are out for the season, which will add at least 78 games to Portland’s current total.
Number games aside, though, the fact that the Blazers are a breath away from 200 missed contests with 39 games and more than two months remaining on the NBA schedule is a testament to just how surreal and absurd this season has become.
But it’s also a reminder of how special 2009-10 has already been.
Heading into tonight’s game, Batum, Outlaw, Przybilla, Oden, Patty Mills, Jeff Pendergraph and Rudy Fernandez have all missed at least 10 games due to injury. Factor in that Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Steve Blake have all missed time, and then add coach Nate McMillan’s ruptured Achilles tendon and health issues for owner Paul Allen and assistant coach Maurice Lucas, and it’s a wonder that Portland isn’t trading blows with NBA lesserweights such as Minnesota, Washington and Indiana for lottery rights.
But with 39 contests to go, the Blazers are still contenders. Portland sits just two games behind Denver for the Northwest Division lead, and the Blazers are holding down fifth place in the Western Conference.
Talk to those who know the team best, and they’ll tell you Portland has survived the storm with resiliency, heart and self belief.
Everyone from Pendergraph and Roy to Andre Miller has stepped up when called upon and delivered.
Meanwhile, praise for McMillan rings out from all corners.
But another word has started to rise to the top while the injury toll has mounted: overachieve.
And as the Blazers’ injury total scales new heights, climbing from unbelievable to unreal, that is exactly what Portland has done this season.
There is no way the Blazers should still be in it. No way the team should even have a chance.
And there is a very real possibility that snowbanks could soon turn into an avalanche if Roy’s strained hamstring turns into something worse. Without Roy, an trainer’s-table ready Portland team living life with 16-year veteran forward Juwan Howard as its starting center instantly becomes mediocre, at best.
But right now, McMillan’s Blazers are still alive.
And they’re already the NBA’s overachievers of the year.
Brian T. Smith covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. Contact him at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Blazers Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/blazerbanter