Column: Blazers pass another test as Roy's hamstring holds up
In five minutes, the high-pitched trumpets would blare, announcing the start of yet another Trail Blazers game.
In ten minutes, Portland guard Brandon Roy would open a side door and walk into an office adjacent to his team’s locker room. Looking loose and upbeat, Roy was primed.
“You ready, Jay?” Roy asked.
Blazers lead athletic trainer Jay Jensen glanced up at Roy and caught his eye. Roy smiled, then quickly closed the door. Jensen had work to do.
But before the trumpets sang and Roy suddenly appeared during the buildup to last Sunday’s game against Utah at the Rose Garden, Jensen had a little quiet time. For ten minutes, the soft-spoken Jensen laid out the how, why and what for. He never sounded defensive or guarded. He never came off like a man with something to hide, prove or protect.
Wearing a bright-blue button-up shirt, sitting casually on a chair, Jensen said Roy’s strained right hamstring was good to go, and so was Roy.
Jensen stated that the health of Roy’s hamstring was medically sound. After missing 12 consecutive contests and 14 out of 15 games from Jan. 15 to Feb. 10, the three-time All-Star had “very good flexibility” and “overpowering strength” in his hamstring. Moreover, Rip City’s favorite son had recently run 12 miles per hour at a 15-percent grade on a treadmill for an extended period of time — a feat that brought a small smile to Jensen’s face.
Roy had passed all the objective tests. And after hearing straight from The Natural’s mouth that he was ready to play, Jensen explained, the Blazers had made a decision Feb. 16 to send the future of the franchise back out on the court against the Los Angeles Clippers
Which brought serious heat from multiple sides.
Portland coach Nate McMillan soon became so tired of talking about the issue that he began ducking questions. Roy spent a postgame interview session following a victory over the Clippers wondering whether he would be healthy enough to play again this season. And after No. 7 looked like a ghost of himself versus the Clippers and Boston in back-to-back games, the critics piled on.
Which they had every right to do.
For a while, it looked like the Blazers were blowing it. Sacrificing Roy’s health and possibly his future for what was increasingly looking like a last-second desperation shot at making the playoffs.
But then something funny happened: The organization’s word stood up.
Roy was at times the best player on the court against the Jazz, pouring in a game-high 23 points. Yes, he tugged at his hamstring. Yes, he spent timeouts pedaling in circles on a stationary bike. And, yes, he grimaced several times while finishing a layup or a hard, explosive drive to the basket. But for all the possible “I told you so” moments, none left a lasting mark.
Roy was reclaiming his conditioning while learning to play through pain — the exact option Portland had chosen; the exact reasoning Jensen provided for why the Blazers activated Roy.
“It’s a matter of him getting his confidence,” Jensen said last Sunday. “It’s a matter of him getting his timing and rhythm down, and that’s what it’s about for me.”
Since then, Roy has continued to progress. He recorded a co-game high 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting in 37 minutes of action during the Blazers’ win over New Jersey on Tuesday. And he dropped in 20 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out five assists during Portland’s victory over Toronto on Wednesday. At the same time, Roy clocked 38 minutes — second only to LaMarcus Aldridge’s 39, and the most the Seattle native has recorded in nearly seven weeks.
Now, the Blazers are 2-0 during a crucial five-game road trip, heading into tonight’s contest against Chicago. Roy is playing his best basketball since early January. And after proving doubters wrong all season, Portland appears to have passed yet another test.
Brian T. Smith covers the Trail Blazers for The Columbian. Contact him at 360-735-4528 or email@example.com. Read his Blazer Banter blog at columbian.com/blazerbanter. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/blazerbanter