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Shorthanded Trail Blazers Feeling the Effects of Injuries in Losing Skid
The effort hasn't waned over their five-game losing streak, but the lack of healthy guards has been too much to overcome.
PORTLAND, Ore. — If there was one silver lining to the Trail Blazers' 14-point loss to Cleveland on Wednesday, it's that Chauncey Billups was finally able to give Shaedon Sharpe a breather.
Sharpe is currently leading the NBA at 38.5 minutes per game. He's played over 40 in seven of the Blazers' 11 games, out of necessity. With Anfernee Simons, Scoot Henderson and Malcolm Brogdon all down with injuries, Portland is down to two healthy guards besides Sharpe. One of them (Skylar Mays) is less than a week removed from having his two-way converted to a regular NBA contract; the other (Jamaree Bouyea) just signed on a two-way and had five total games of NBA experience before that.
The Blazers as an organization may be in a rebuild, but on a day-to-day basis, Billups is trying to win games. To do that, he has to play his best players more than he wants to.
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"I am concerned with it," Billups said before Wednesday's game. "It's a lot. Losing everybody puts you in such a tough spot. You're overplaying [Sharpe] because you have to. You're trying to stay in the game. I think it's hurt him a little bit defensively. He's taken a step back in my opinion, because he's so tired and worn down and we're asking so much out of him. It hasn't been great for him, either. I know his tank is low. We talk about it."
The truth is, everyone's tank is low right now (except Duop Reath, who has now taken 16 threes in 44 NBA minutes). The Blazers have lost five in a row now, falling to 3-8 on the season, with a tough schedule coming up the rest of November. This was where most people thought their record would be, but there's only so much that can be taken from games like this one, where they're so shorthanded and exhausted that you can't even track individual development.
The good news is that they should be getting healthy relatively soon. Brogdon's hamstring injury is considered day-to-day. Soft-tissue injuries like hamstrings can be tough to predict, but Billups said Brogdon is feeling better, and there's optimism in the organization that he could be back soon. Just having one more playable guard on the floor will take some of the burden off Sharpe, and let Mays go back to the backup role where he's most comfortable.
Simons, still expected to be out until mid-December after undergoing right thumb surgery in the first week of the season, appears to be progressing well in his rehab. His thumb is out of a hard cast and he was seen working on ballhandling drills with both hands during warmups on Wednesday. Henderson, likely out through the end of the month with an ankle injury, has appeared in good spirits.
The emergence of Reath, signed to a two-way contract after a strong Summer League and training camp with the Blazers, has softened the blow of losing Robert Williams III to season-ending knee surgery. The 27-year-old Sudanese-Australian big man has already overtaken the little-used Moses Brown to become the full-time backup center.
"'Wop' has been great," Billups said Wednesday. "He's so different than our other [centers]. Able to space the floor, but not only that, he goes in and rebounds. He's just got a good feel for the game. You can run some things through him at the elbow. He can make different reads and passes."
Despite the spate of injuries, the organization is happy with the identity and consistent effort that have been on display. Outside of the season opener against the Clippers and the third game of the season in Philadelphia, the Blazers have been in every game they played, many with a chance to win. In a developmental year, that's all a franchise hopes for.
Now, they just need their guys back.