On Sunday, the Trail Blazers welcomed back rookies Will Barton and Victor Claver from their weekend stint with the NBA Development League’s Idaho Stampede. And just in time.
Nicolas Batum (back) and Wesley Matthews (hip) missed Sunday’s practice and the injuries could also keep them out Monday when the Blazers (8-12) host the Toronto Raptors. Batum originally hurt his back on Dec. 5 in Indiana and the injury has progressively worsened.
“I don’t think I’ll go tomorrow,” Batum said.
Matthews expressed optimism that his left hip flexor strain and left hip contusion could improve in a day’s time. Still, the Blazers have to start crafting a Plan B.
“I’ve got Nolan, Ronnie, Will, Victor, Sasha, Luke, they’re all in the mix,” coach Terry Stotts said, rattling off most of the reserves who could fill in.
“When two of your top four starters are out, it is (unsettling). But injuries happen in this league and someone usually has to step in and fill the void. That’s what the guys will do. What won’t change is the way we compete. We’ll have to do some adjustments but every team goes through injuries and when it happens to some of your top players, you have to work it out.”
Stotts continued: “I would imagine Damian and LaMarcus being more involved if those guys don’t play. … Damian and LaMarcus will get theirs. We’ll score points and it won’t come from one guy, it’ll come from a group of people. They’re NBA players. They’ve got to come out and make plays.”
With the Blazers needing some of their younger reserves to step in, that weekend in Boise for Claver and Barton couldn’t have come at a better time. Both players got a chance to stay on the floor and play – the primary reason behind their D-League assignment. In two games, Barton averaged 42 minutes, 19.5 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. Claver had a bit of a rough go on the first night, but averaged 11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds in 33.5 minutes.
“Well, it’s different, the way they play,” Claver said of the experience with the Stampede. “Here, we have more rules. We play more organized. So the first game was hard for me because I didn’t know the players on my team.”
With that “we have more rules” comment, Claver, a native of Spain, likely meant that he feels more comfortable in the Blazers’ system rather than trying to learn Stampede plays on the fly. However, the Blazers were never too far from his mind. Claver said that after playing with the Stampede on Saturday night, he and Barton followed updates on the Blazers’ game against the Sacramento. That’s when he learned about the injuries to Batum and Matthews.
By Sunday, Claver was unaware if the injuries would usher in a greater role for him, but realized the need to prepare himself.
“I’ve been out for 15 days almost, so now I have to be ready again. That’s why they wanted me to go (to Boise and) play 30 minutes,” Claver said. “When the season started I wasn’t playing too much… I have to be ready when the coach needs me to play. If Nic can’t play or he can’t play too much, I have to play. I have to work.”
When asked what positives Claver drew from his D-League experience, after a thoughtful pause he responded with this: “I play minutes again. I feel more like I used to play. I had more chances to shoot the ball. (But) I don’t want to be there again so I have do everything I can here.”
Barton and Jeffries take part in youth clinic
Following the practice, Jared Jeffries and Barton made an appearance at youth basketball clinics at the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation Center.
The players helped with drills and basically served as basketball ambassadors during the two sessions that drew approximately 55 kids. Barton surprisingly still had fresh legs after a busy weekend in Boise, and often got involved in the drills – filling in with a three-man weave and playing 1 on 1.
“When you come to (clinics) like this, it’s all about the energy of the kids. How enthusiastic they are and how much they enjoy playing,” Jeffries said. “Stuff like this gives a good foundation for kids in basketball moving forward.”
The Trail Blazers often hold such youth clinics, with different players appearing. The next scheduled clinic is scheduled for Dec. 21 at the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation Center. Admission includes two tickets to a home game, and a portion of the proceeds also go to benefit the Blazers’ Make It Better foundation. For more information, contact Mike North at firstname.lastname@example.org and 503-963-3978.