Blazers center Robin Lopez to miss time with fractured right hand
Trail Blazers center Robin Lopez has been deemed out indefinitely after fracturing a bone in his right hand on Monday night. The injury was sustained through incidental contact during Portland's game against the Spurs, as Lopez appeared to hurt his hand while scrapping for a rebound with San Antonio's Boris Diaw. According to Blazers coach Terry Stotts (via CSNNW), Lopez "will be out awhile," as one would expect given the location and severity of Lopez's injury.
Either Chris Kaman or Joel Freeland will fill Lopez's spot in the starting lineup, an adjustment that will hurt the Blazers on the front and back end of their rotation. Lopez is the lurking presence at the heart of Portland's team defense with whom opponents must grapple. Drives made by Blazers opponents are channeled in Lopez's direction and swallowed up by his long reach, improving Portland's defense by 1.5 points per 100 possessions on defensive grounds alone.
Lopez is also a big, physical rebounder who cancels out out the influence of opposing rebounders and demands attention himself. Those opponents who lose track of Lopez on the offensive glass will give up a handful of points per game for their inattention, as Lopez is one of the more efficient finishers in the league.
Neither Kaman nor Freeland can replicate what Lopez offers. Plus, with one stepping into the starting five, Stotts will have even fewer resources to choose from on the Blazer bench. Kaman has been instrumental for the way his offense and, surprisingly, defense have helped balance the second unit from the inside. Making him a temporary starter would disrupt that balance, whereas starting Freeland would accept a bigger initial deficit for the sake of maintaining a more capable bench. Portland has the personnel and balance to make do, though an upcoming trio of games against the Spurs, Pelicans and Rockets would be more manageable with a full lineup.
The Blazers have generally been quite lucky in regard to the health of their top players. Lopez, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews all played full, 82-game seasons in 2013-14, while LaMarcus Aldridge missed a mere 13 games with various ailments. Lillard, Matthews and, to this point, Lopez had continued their active streak throughout the 2014-15 season to date as well, with Aldridge missing but a single game and Batum sitting out only a handful. The continuity brought on by the health and familiarity of its starting lineup is a large part of what makes Portland so potent. With that compromised, even if only temporarily, the Blazers might find themselves hampered slightly by stopgap alternatives.