Load management is one of the NBA’s biggest buzzwords these days, and rare is the training camp in which the matter doesn’t come up.
What was once a tactical quirk most famously used by San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to rest his veteran stars has become a major topic after Kawhi Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to a title after sitting out several games in back-to-backs last season. Now, it’s expected many teams with a clear path to the playoffs will sit their stars here and there.
Just don’t expect the Portland Trail Blazers to follow suit.
Blazers fine with playing Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum for 82 games
The Blazers have no plans to rest star guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum for games this season, according to The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman.
When asked about the prospect, Lillard and McCollum bluntly stated that the team needs them on the floor if it wants to make the playoffs.
“We’re not some big super team,” Lillard said. “So I don’t think we have the luxury to sit out, especially with how competitive the West is going to be.”
Added McCollum: “The race in the Western Conference is extremely tight. I don’t know if we can afford to Kawhi it, so to speak. You’ll Kawhi your way out of the playoffs.”
McCollum’s assessment isn’t exactly wrong. The Western Conference is even more monstrously deep than usual this year. The Blazers, thanks to their backcourt and continuity, are widely seen as a likely playoff team, but so are the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors. Add in other playoff contenders like the Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans, and you have extremely little room for error if you’re the Blazers this season.
Blazers will try to limit toll in other ways
However, there’s no denying that taking any load off of Lillard and McCollum would be helpful to the team. Per The Oregonian, McCollum led the NBA in total distance run from 2015 to 2018, running combined 634.20 miles during games over three seasons. He might have done it again last year had it not been for a knee injury.
Lillard (202 miles) reportedly finished fifth last year, and he admitted he felt that toll in the playoffs:
“We got to the Western Conference finals and I felt it,” Lillard said. “We hadn’t been that far and my body was tired. I was fatigued to the point where it was a real challenge. How I manage myself leading up to that point is going to mean everything.”
With the team’s top big man Jusuf Nurkic still out for a decent chunk of the season due to a leg fracture and starters Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless now gone, Lillard and McCollum might have to carry the team even more this year.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts told The Oregonian that he plans to scale back the pair’s involvement in practice and keep them out of other strenuous activities. That’s an understandable outlook, given that Lillard and McCollum are already well-versed in Stotts’ system.
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