Blazers’ playoff hopes may hinge on unlikely hero
When Brandon Roy left Portland’s game against the Lakers in the second quarter with a knee injury, he did not collapse onto the floor, he was not screaming in pain and no trainers were required to carry him off the court.
His foot-tangle with Ron Artest was nowhere near horrific enough to become an instant YouTube sensation, á la Greg Oden’s or Joel Pryzbilla’s injuries. Yet, if early reports about Roy’s status are true, this “sprained knee” (his words) will be far more devastating to the Blazers than any injury they have had to deal with this season — it will cost them their best player at the time they’ll need him most: the playoffs.
The Blazers could open postseason play as early as April 17. Roy’s injury, which ESPN labeled as a torn meniscus, will require surgery. But since there is no risk of making it worse, Roy is hopeful he will be able to put off the surgery until the offseason and play through the pain.
“I want to play,” he told reporters April 12. “It’s the playoffs.”
He plans on testing the knee April 16. Until then, Blazer fans are faced with a daunting question: Can the team survive a playoff series without him?
In 16 games without Roy this year, the team is 8-8. Conversely, with him in the lineup, they are 42-23. No surprise there. By digging a little deeper, we can see exactly where the team misses Roy the most: at the offensive end.
The Blazers have averaged about 99 points per game with Roy on the floor this year, as opposed to a little more than 94 points per game with him sitting out. While Portland’s first-round opponent could still be any one of four teams, each of them (Dallas, Denver, Utah and Phoenix) is a prolific offensive squad, meaning if the Blazers are going to keep up, someone is going to have to pick up the slack. But who?
The easy answer is LaMarcus Aldridge. As the team’s second-leading scorer, he is the natural alternative to take over as the go-to guy in Roy’s absence. But Aldridge lacks Roy’s killer instinct, as well as his scoring credentials. Roy carried the team on his back last year against Houston, scoring 42 points to earn a Game 2 win. Aldridge has never scored 40 in a game; he has only cleared 30 twice all season, and Portland lost both games.
Coach Nate McMillan has stated that if Roy is unable to play, Rudy Fernandez will start in his place during the playoffs. While Rudy may be a fan favorite, he cannot be counted on to pick up the scoring slack, either. Fernandez has averaged just 8.7 points per game in contests without Roy, a number barely above his average for the season.
The player that is going to have to step up is Martell Webster. Webster has been so hot and cold this year, you could mistake him for Katy Perry. But he has played his best basketball in Roy’s absence, averaging 13.1 points per game (as opposed to 8.2 per game with Roy). Webster is the owner of one of the league’s prettiest jumpers, and he is one of the few Blazers capable of creating his own shot. A confident Webster would give the Blazers someone to knock down shots and keep the team in the ballgame. He’ll certainly need some help from the Millers and Cambys of the roster, but Webster may hold the key to any Blazer playoff run.
With luck, Roy will grit it out and give the Blazers another inspiring playoff performance. However, the way injuries have gone for the team this year, Portland would be wise to have Webster and company ready to lead the way.
FreelancerAlex Harkaway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org