Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts joined Mike Barrett and Mike Rice for an interview on Blazers Courtside on Monday to discuss his goals for the rest of the season, the progress of some key players this season and his plans for handling Meyers Leonard's minutes down the stretch.
Here's a transcript.
Thoughts on road trip
I watched the intro and you guys were talking about if we won the Philly game. The truth of it is, if we win the Philly game, who knows if we beat Chicago and Atlanta. I come away from it feeling pretty good about our team. I don't know where the playoff race is going to go but we beat two pretty good teams on the road in Chicago and Atlanta. We did it in a way that I think gives us a lot of confidence, how we played offensively and defensively. The Philly game was a little disappointing, it could have gone either way, Philly was playing very well at the time. Milwaukee, we just laid an egg in the second quarter and made a valiant comeback. We lose [by] 20 points to Oklahoma City, but after three and a half quarters it was a three or four point game.
I come out of it feeling good about our team. I certainly wasn't feeling good about our prospects after the Milwaukee game but we still have a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. The goals at the beginning of the season, I always remind myself of that, because we get caught up with winning and losing and playoff hunt and all that. Our goals were to compete and get better throughout the year. I think this road trip showed a little bit of that. We got two good road wins against two good opponents and I don't know if we would have done that earlier in the season.
What would you change if you could change anything? Home record is better than road record
I don't care how the wins come. If we can get 50 wins I don't care how we get them. The biggest thing with this team being a young team and an inexperienced team, is being a more consistent team. In the back of my mind I'm kind of thinking about next year as well. We need to be more consistent and that speaks to our defense, that speaks to home and road, that speaks to first half and second half. That's where I would like to get to. With 12 games to go, I don't know if we'll be able to get that in the next 12 games. For a young team to be able to do it every night, regardless of situations and venue, is the goal I'm looking for.
Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard
Damian, I don't know if anybody expected him to do what he's done this season besides Damian. He has a lot of confidence in himself. I don't think he expected anything less of himself. That being said, what he is doing, what he does every night, doesn't really surprise me. He'll make some moves, make some shots and I'll say to myself, 'Damn, he's pretty good.' For the most part he's been remarkably consistent and has done it throughout the season. The fact that he's having a stronger month this month is a testament to his will and his talent. I don't know of the right word, a lot of people ask me if I'm surprised, I can't think of the right word. I don't think anybody at the beginning of the season would have expected this but at this point I don't think anybody is surprised.
As far as Meyers goes, I think he's coming off three good games. I've made a concerted effort to get him some minutes the last three games, in Chicago, Atlanta and Oklahoma City. Partly because I thought he matched up well, they play big lineups, I thought they would be teams that he would play significant minutes and be productive. I thought he took advantage of those minutes. He had a good rebounding game in Atlanta with nine. He was disappointing with his rebounding last night but offensively he made some nice moves. I'm pleased with the progress he's made in the last three games. These last 12 games, I'm going to try to get him continued minutes and he needs to make the most of them.
Playoff race -- biggest threats to win West?
The way Denver is playing now and they have a great homecourt advantage, if they are able to get the three or four seed and have homecourt in the first round, they create a lot of problems with their style. San Antonio, with their experience and [Tony] Parker getting back, you don't want to go against them. Oklahoma City are the reigning Western Conference champs. You've got to put those three in the mix for me. The Clippers and Memphis are certainly talented teams, at this point, I think they are right below them and with [Marc] Gasol having an injury. I like the way Denver plays and the confidence, it's a unique style of play, San Antonio's experience, they've been there before, and same thing with Oklahoma City. Even though they are young, they've been there before. Those three teams stand above the others.
Goals with 12 games left
I look at our players and I hear their comments and how hard they are playing. They certainly haven't given up on the playoffs. As a coach, I'm going to coach them like that. I don't want to bail on them. They've given everything they've had all season. We have to give it a shot. Whatever happens in the next 12 games, we'll take it game by game. I know there are people wanting me to bail on the season and play the young guys for the last month, I just don't think that's fair to the guys who have been putting it out there every night.
As far as our goals, our goal is to get a game on Wednesday. We've got the Brooklyn Nets, we played them last time without LaMarcus [Aldridge], they're a good team, that will be a challenge. The way we approach the season will probably be on a game-by-game basis. Each game has its own importance and we'll make the evaluation after each one.
LaMarcus Aldridge's recent play and J.J. Hickson
He has been remarkably consistent throughout his career, his monthly stats, his home/road stats, his wins/losses stats. He's been playing at a very high level other than last night and really the only thing that wasn't going was his shot. He's been the foundation of our team all season long and sometimes that gets overlooked. It's a shame that some people might take for granted what he does for this team. I know I don't. We count on him and his teammates don't.
J.J. has had a remarkable season. When you put up that many double-doubles and the energy that he plays with. Whether he's playing five or not, sometimes people get caught up in the numbers position-wise, in today's NBA it's not as position-specific as it used to be. He's rebounding well, he rebounded well in Cleveland, the one part of his game that's come to the forefront is his mid-range jump shot. When I got here, people said, 'He likes shooting that mid-range, you've got to keep him from shooting that mid-range.' He's really turned into a very good mid-range shooter for a big man. That's opened up a lot of opportunities for him as well.
We have a very unique group because there's so many young players. The chemistry I think is very good. We have five rookies who really don't know anything else. They come into it fresh. The people we had coming back are quality character guys like LaMarcus, Wes and Nic. When you add veterans like Jared, Sasha and Ronnie Price, who is not with us any more, it really was a great blend of talent of character and chemistry. The young guys are learning how to be pros. The older guys want to play but guys like Jared and Sasha are good mentors for the young guys and have been good for Nic, LaMarcus and Wesley. They enjoy each other's company, you see the camaraderie, compared to other teams it's a very unique blend. I've never coached a team this young. The older players have really helped the younger players.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter