Sam Bowie

Damian Lillard has back spasms: Isn't it time to consider load management?

Damian Lillard has back spasms: Isn't it time to consider load management?

If ever it was no surprise that somebody was going to have to sit out a game because of back spasms, it’s tonight with Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers.

The man has been carrying this team on his back all season, leading the league in minutes – and those were some pretty stressful, high-usuage-rate minutes, at that. No wonder Damian Lillard has back spasms.

You don’t believe in load management? Well, you probably don’t believe in flu shots, either, right?

It’s the same thing. You don’t have the flu when you get that shot -- you get the shot to keep you from having the flu. Same with load management. You are healthy enough to play in a game, but rather than stress your body another night, you rest. You rest to prevent injuries – which is easier than trying to treat the injury once you get it. And you stave off fatigue that comes from piling game on top of game.

The Trail Blazers are in the midst of a six-game road trip that offers too much travel, too many games and are tonight playing the second of back-to-back games. Lillard should probably sit this game out even if his back wasn’t hurting.

More and more, people are coming to realize that the density of the schedule combined with a lack of sleep that occurs because of the crazy cross-time-zone travel leads to fatigue. And fatigue leads to injuries.

The Trail Blazers, for whatever reasons, have refused to rest healthy players over the years. Part of this, I’m sure, is because the players themselves wish to play. And the team wants to win every possible game in order to make the playoffs. But that shouldn’t matter. The team needs to step up and protect players from themselves. Particularly a player such as Lillard, who knows how important he is to his squad.

Will resting players cause losses? Yes, of course. Not all the time, but sometimes. But would you rather lose a player for three months because of a severe injury, or just lose a game or two here or there?

And when I think back about the troubles this team has had keeping franchise players healthy, I believe more than ever that load management could have been an answer.

Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, Brandon Roy – would any of them have lasted a little longer with a lighter load? Maybe sitting out a game here and there or playing with a limit on minutes? I think that’s possible.

Obviously, there is no way to prove any of those players – or Lillard – would have profited from load management, but I’d certainly favor giving it a try.

And at some point, the league is going to have to explore shortening the schedule. This is too much and players are paying a price for it.

Can we call it the Blazers' "Case of the Cursed Centers?"

Can we call it the Blazers' "Case of the Cursed Centers?"

This story is painful for longtime Trail Blazer fans but it must be told. Can we call it the Case of the Cursed Centers?

It all started with Bill Walton. The All-America center out of UCLA was the No. 1 pick in the 1974 NBA draft. The franchise knew when it picked him that he’d been plagued by foot and leg problems but he was an elite player – an all-time great at the college level who was a can’t-miss pro.

Walton played in only a combined 86 games for Portland his first two seasons but the third season was a beauty. He was healthy for 65 games and through the playoffs, when he led his team to its one and only NBA championship and was the Finals MVP.

The following season he was the league’s Most Valuable Player but exited after 58 games with foot problems and never played another game for Portland.

Then came Sam Bowie, the second pick of the 1984 draft. He played 76 games as a rookie but only a combined 63 over the next four seasons, as leg injuries sidelined him and eventually led to a trade that brought Buck Williams from New Jersey. And oh yes, the Blazers took Bowie over Michael Jordan, as you remember.

In 2007, Portland again had the first pick in the draft and selected Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. Oden played a total of 82 games over five seasons with the Blazers.

And now, of course, there is Jusuf Nurkic. In late March of 2017, he suffered a non-displaced fracture of his right fibula and missed the final seven games of the regular season. He attempted a comeback in the playoffs but could handle only 17 minutes of one game.

Monday it got muck worse for Nukic, as everyone knows. He suffered a compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula and underwent surgery Tuesday.

Nurkic was moving toward becoming one of the top centers in the league and his net rating (10.4) is said to be the best by a Portland player since the stat was created in 2000.

What is it about the Trail Blazers' centers and their lower bodies? If you were a center and drafted by or traded to Portland, would you decline the opportunity and head to Europe? Invest big money in a company that manufactures crutches?

I’m not much of a believer in jinxes but is it fair to say the franchise is cursed? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

Center is a basketball position that puts a lot of very large men in a small confined space near the basket where they often collide with each other. And often these men don’t seem to have lower limbs sturdy enough to handle the stress on their big bodies.

I’ve always thought these sorts of things even out over time. But as far as the Trail Blazers are concerned, that time can’t come soon enough.

This just hasn’t been fair.