Batum stays hot for Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers dismantled the Washington Wizards 111-76 Tuesday, while Nicolas Batum racked up 22 points (9-15 FG), 12 rebounds, 2 3s, 3 assists, 3 steals and a block in 40 minutes of action. Stockpiling stats while facing the pathetic Wizards isn't anything to brag about, but he'll have a chance to prove himself against stiffer competition his next three games, as the Blazers play the San Antonio Spurs twice and the Oklahoma City Thunder in between.
While Batum may have a tougher challenge this week, he has the talent and opportunity to finish the season on a strong note. Marcus Camby missed Tuesday night's run with a sprained ankle that could cost him more game action, but he was working out of a reserve role the previous four games anyway. The same goes for Brandon Roy, who is just an afterthought off the pine at this point. While Camby and Roy have been limited, Batum has averaged 34.5 minutes, 13.3 field goal attempts, 19.3 points and 2.5 3s over the past four contests.
With Camby and Roy taking a backseat, and Gerald Wallace attracting attention from opposing defenses, the door is open for the young and talented Batum to claim a bigger role for next season by piling up stats as this season winds down.
• Stat lines got uber-inflated when the Los Angeles Lakers took down the Phoenix Suns 139-137 Tuesday night in a triple-overtime game. That doesn't mean we can't glean something from the digits, though. Marcin Gortat churned out 24 points (9-15 FG), 16 rebounds and 2 blocks in a whopping 53 minutes of action. Since the All-Star break, Gortat has averaged 15.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 1.4 bpg, while hitting 57.1 percent of his field goal attempts. Incredibly, that's all come in a reserve role, where he has averaged nearly 35 minutes per contest. These numbers are not a fluke and portend what we can expect night in and night out next season.
• The Atlanta Hawks got smoked by the Chicago Bulls 114-81 on Tuesday. Even though the Hawks' starting lineup of Kirk Hinrich, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith and Al Horford failed miserably on all counts, coach Larry Drew said he probably will roll with these starters the rest of the way. Zaza Pachulia, Jamal Crawford and Damien Wilkins will remain in the rotation, while Jeff Teague and Jason Collins will see action when warranted. Marvin Williams probably will benefit most from a secure starting role, but his upside remains limited. Teague had 20 points and 4 3s Tuesday, but production like that will only happen here and there during the final weeks.
An MRI revealed that Tim Duncan's ankle injury is between a Grade 1 and Grade 2 sprain. While that means there is no structural damage, it's a fairly significant injury and is expected to keep him out for at least the upcoming three-game road trip that starts Wednesday. Even if he comes back for next Thursday's matchup with the Boston Celtics, he'd probably be eased back in with only eight games remaining. It's entirely possible that Tiago Splitter will be the safer fantasy play down the stretch, because the San Antonio Spurs want to keep Duncan healthy for the postseason, while giving the rookie Splitter significant experience now so he, too, is ready for the playoffs. On Monday, Splitter racked up 10 points, 14 boards, 2 assists and 3 steals. Make sure he's not on your waiver wire.