On December 15th, 2014, the Portland Trail Blazers were cruising with a record of 18-6, and had come off a win to correct their second 2-game skid of the young season. That night they faced a well-rested, championship pedigree San Antonio Spurs team. The Blazers took the game, but they lost center Robin Lopez after he broke two bones in his right hand on Boris Diaw's head. It would mark the first time in nearly three years that Lopez had missed a game to injury.
At the time, many folks (myself included) thought that the Blazers' bubble had burst, that their goose had been cooked, and that their Game Gear had burned through an entire 20-pack of Energizers. Here was a team that had sailed through the entire 2013-14 season practically injury-free. Even with the addition of backup center Chris Kaman in the offseason, it was clear that nearly everything the Blazers did on defense hinged on Lopez. Cleaning up the defensive mistakes of the guards, affording Aldridge the luxury of not having to play center, and sealing out opposing rebounders to perfection were just a few of the many things Lopez brought that nobody else could.
It was an important turning point for the Aldridge and Lillard-era Blazers: could they weather an injury storm and come out the other end more or less okay, or would they stumble?
To the surprise of many, the Blazers kept plugging along: Between Lopez's injury on Dec. 15 and the end of December, the Blazers went 8-1, winning against the Thunder, the Pelicans, the then-competent Toronto Raptors, and the Spurs twice.
Though the Blazers kept their lineups taped together without Lopez, the tape peeled when backup Joel Freeland strained his shoulder on January 3rd, 2015. Between then and Lopez's return on Feb. 3rd, the Blazers went just 6-9, suffering their first two 3-game losing streaks of the season.
While Lopez played about as well when he came back as he did before the injury, the Blazers were a very different team. Looking wounded and out of sync, the Blazers racked up nearly as many losses after Lopez's return (15) as they had before (16) with far fewer wins (19 compared with 32). While Lopez's injury alone didn't account for the Blazers' decline, it became the first hard punch of many to come. The magical season the Blazers had been enjoying was about to evaporate in smoke as Robin's injury became a harbinger of things to come.