Portland Trail Blazers fans can breathe a little bit easier this morning. After star guard CJ McCollum was injured in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, most in Rip City were fearing the worst.
Now it appears that McCollum has avoided the dreaded injuries that have populated headlines in Portland before. According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, McCollum has strained the popliteus, a muscle in the back of his left knee.
What that means moving forward isn’t immediately clear. The Blazers will certainly miss McCollum as he tries to recover in time for Portland’s playoff push. But the Trail Blazers are in the midst of a battle for homecourt advantage in the West, and the team’s schedule coming up has several more playoff teams before the season ends.
The popliteus is a muscle on the back of the knee that helps activate the hinging of the joint out of a locked position, and as most of us should be aware by now, a strain is in fact a tear in the muscle — albeit a small one.
It’s not a common injury, but it is one we’ve seen in the past in the NBA. Kevin Garnett, then with the Boston Celtics, missed the playoffs in 2009 after straining his popliteus muscle in late March of that year. It took more than two weeks from Garnett’s final game for the team to announce that he would be unable to make it for the 2009 postseason.
Portland has deepened their bench with the additions of Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter, and they’ve seen a resurgence of Maurice Harkless lately that is encouraging. They also have benefited from strong play out of Jake Layman, so they should have guys ready to step up and fill McCollum’s minutes.
But the Blazers will be a bit easier to cover in the postseason without the playmaking ability of McCollum, and it’ll change how coach Terry Stotts finagles his rotations heading into late April. This is the last thing Portland wanted, and they’re going to have to be careful not to rush McCollum back if he has any chance to play. The popliteus helps stabilize the knee, and we’ve seen guys get more seriously hurt after coming back too soon in the past.
Portland has already exceeded expectations this year, and if they have any kind of playoff success without McCollum it could be seen as a positive way to make the most out of a bad situation.