All the talk last season on what the Portland Trail Blazers needed to take the next step centered around on the center position. JJ Hickson, a 6-9 power forward, held down the fort in that spot and did the best that he could.
Actually, he did quite well, posting the best numbers of his career by averaging a double-double of 12.7 points and a career-high 10.4 rebounds per game in 80 appearances. He even shot 56 percent from the field, a career mark, as well.
Despite those gaudy numbers, Hickson wasn’t going to be part of the team’s long-term plans. A defensive anchor with size was what the organization desired going into the summer of 2013. The Trail Blazers finished 33-49 that year and had dropped its last 13 games.
It was apparent: Hickson would not return to Portland.
Robin Lopez was acquired in the offseason with the addition of a few other pieces and Portland shot out the gate with a 24-5 record, stunning the entire association. Four out of the five starters for the Trail Blazers were having career years.
Now a member of the Denver Nuggets, Hickson, as honest as can be, said he had an self-evaluation moment and admitted the success Portland was experiencing initially bothered him.
“At a certain point, I had to look at myself in the mirror and ask, ‘Damn, was I the problem?'” Hickson reflected while speaking with CSNNW.com. “I mean, I did the best I could in that situation. It was kind of hard to see that, but I think that’s just human nature after a team doesn’t make the playoffs and then the next year, you’re gone and they make the playoffs. It was a little difficult.”
It takes a big man to acknowledge that he may have been the issue in why Portland wasn’t as effective on the offensive and defensive end. The truth of the matter is Hickson wasn’t big enough. No fault of his own, he simply played out of position.
“I don’t know what else I could have done to have made it a better situation,” Hickson said. “ And Robin [Lopez], he’s getting an opportunity to play and he’s making the best of it. I felt like I did what was asked of me. At the end of the day, they’re playing well and I’m happy for them and the city. There’s some good people over there.”
While the fans appreciated his hustle and board-grabbing skillset, it is the fans that he remembers the most during his brief time as a Portland Trail Blazer.
“Just great fans. They’ve got to be Top 5 in the league. They just got to be,” he said. “Even though we were losing, the same fans that were there last year are there this year. I can’t do nothing but thank that city and the organization for accepting me and giving me praise for the things that I did.”
Denver takes on Portland Saturday night at the Moda Center with the sole purpose of preventing a season sweep. Tuesday night in the Mile High City, the Trail Blazers defeated the Nuggets 100-95.
In that contest, Hickson showed why the Portland fans fell in love with him by putting up 16 points and a career-high 25 rebounds (had 15 offensive boards, a team record) in 30 minutes of action off the bench. In order for them to be able to compete Saturday night, Hickson will have to have a monster game.
But when it comes to what could have been, Hickson says he has moved on from thinking what he could have possibly done differently, saying things happen for a reason.
When asked what specifically Portland has done to improve its roster this year, Hickson proceeded to sit back in his locker stall chair while he pondered the question for a minute before responding.
“L.A. (LaMarcus Aldridge) is having a career year, that helps,” he said. “Wes (Matthews) is having a career year. Nic (Batum) is having a career year. So you add Dame (Lillard) and Robin in the picture, it’s just a great team. I’m happy for them. I think Coach [Terry] Stotts is doing a great job of getting guys to buy into his philosophies and it’s showing. It’s paying off. I wish them nothing but the best.
“But I want to beat them.”
Preview of tonight's game between the Portland Trail Blazers (40-18) and the Denver Nuggets (25-32).
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Place: Moda Center.
Radio: Fox Sports Radio 620 AM
CSN Programming: Rip City Live begins at 6:00 p.m. and Talkin’ Ball is immediately following the game.
Season Series: Portland leads 3-0.
Injuries: LaMarcus Aldridge (groin), Meyers Leonard (ankle) are probable while Thomas Robinson (knee) and Joel Freeland (MCL sprain) are out for Portland. Ty Lawson (rib), Nate Robinson (ACL) and JaVale McGee (leg) will not play for Denver.
Standings: Portland is third in the Western Conference standings and is second in their division. Denver is 11th in the conference, eight and a half games behind the eighth and final playoff spot.
Probable Starters for Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez.
Last Game for Trail Blazers: A 124-80 rout at home over the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 26.
Probable Starters for Nuggets: Aaron Brooks, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Timofey Mozgov.
Last Game for Nuggets: A 112-89 home loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 27.