And then there was one. Just one -- for right now, at least.
One Trail Blazer center left. And the team started training camp with five of them. Six, actually, if you want to count G-League rookie Moses Brown.
Saturday night, just 2:37 into what turned into a 128-120 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Skal Labissiere suffered an injury to his left knee and departed the game. Ironically, Labissiere was starting at power forward alongside Hassan Whiteside, as Coach Terry Stotts attempted to get more size in the game to counter the Lakers’ starting duo of Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee.
Results of Labissiere’s MRI are “pending,” according to Stotts.
Portland began the season with Zach Collins, who has served as a backup center previously, as the starting power forward but he was lost due to dislocated left shoulder. Veteran Hall of Fame center Pau Gasol began the season on the injured list and later retired. And Jusuf Nurkic, the expected starter when he returns from the broken leg he suffered last season.
Leaving Whiteside. Period. Depending on Labissiere’s status, Brown could be recalled from the G-League to fill a backup role.
But playing basketball without size in the frontcourt is a very difficult task, particularly against teams with plenty of size, such as the Lakers.
Portland stayed in the game until late in the third quarter, when Los Angeles got serious about going to Davis on lob passes or getting the ball deep to Dwight Howard. The Lakers finished with a 60-40 edge in points in the paint and that was the difference in the game.
“I mean, it’s tough any time you lose a teammate to an injury,” said Damian Lillard, who had 31 points and nine assists. “Just because you don’t know how serious it could be or how much time he’ll miss. It’s a guy who’s been in our rotation all season. It hurts even more, especially with us already dealing with so many injuries.
“I don’t care who’s on the floor or what we’re dealing with as far as injuries or what we’re up against – I mean, we’re all professionals. People pay a lot of money to come see us play and we get paid a lot of money to show up and do our jobs and perform. So, I think it’s obvious what we’re up against. We’ve got three of our starters out with tough injuries and we’re playing with guys who it’s their first year getting a lot of minutes… Everybody knows that, but it does us no good to use it as a crutch or make an excuse…”
Anthony Tolliver, a forward who got backup minutes at center, responded with his best shooting night of the season, hitting four of his five three-point shots. And Anfernee Simons had 14 points and six rebounds off the bench. Whiteside had 19 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks.
But in the end, everything came down to the little things:
Portland is now too little. There aren’t enough big men. Which makes interior defense difficult. And at this point of the season, very little can be done about it.