The Portland Trail Blazers earned their second 3-game winning streak of the season with a victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday. Perhaps most impressively, they did so without All-Star point guard Damian Lillard, who has bee sidelined for the last five contests with plantar fasciitis. In his stead, everyone has stepped up. CSNNW brings us inside the locker room to gauge the team's attitude.
How different is it to be the lead guard now for five games?
It’s just higher usage rate. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes I get some careless turnovers, but I try to do a good job of being cognizant of shooting versus when to pass. Obviously when you play two-guard, you’re just a lot more aggressive, you’re just looking to score because you’re touches aren’t as frequent. When you play point guard, you’re bringing the ball up every play, so obviously I could create a shot as often as I would like to, as I want, but I try to come off the screens and manipulate it and make sure everybody’s staying involved because, down the stretch, guys are going to be open and I want to make sure that they trust me and I trust them enough to make the shot.
You also have to defend a point guard. Does that add to the burden?
Yeah, it’s a lot of pick-and-rolls. Guarding the two-guards is more off ball stuff and then there’s some versatile twos that can play with the ball, but the point guard position, you know, everything transpires in pick-and-rolls, so just got to do a good job of staying engaged, staying locked in, and trying to get into guys when screens come.
Obviously all of this is part of your maturation process. Have you learned anything about yourself in this last week, 10 days?
No, man. I haven’t. I’ve worked hard. I’ve put a lot of time in studying film. I’ve had my own teams in the past, you know, in high school and college, and I’ve been a role player, so I’m comfortable in any role. Obviously this is the highest level so, like you said, it’s a process. There’s going to be good games, there’s going to be bad games, there’s going to be times when you make shots and you miss shots, but I’m comfortable in any role and I’m just going to continue to do the things that have helped me get here preparation-wise, breaking down film, then once the games start, just getting to my spots.
It probably has been a process for you where we know now that you can do it consistently, we know now that teams are going to try to get the ball out of your hands and focus on you. What do you imagine is the next thing that you’ll have to encounter and overcome?
Just consistency. It’s a long season. There’s highs and lows. There’s going to be times where everyone thinks you’re the best thing since sliced bread and then there’s going to be times where people are kicking you out the door and saying ‘He’s too small’ or ‘He got to work on his passing’ or ‘He over-dribbles,’ so you just got to try to stay in your lane and do what you’re good at and continue to get better at that, and then be aware of your weaknesses and continue to tighten those up. But, like I said, it’s a long 82-game season, so just ride the wave, try to play well, try to be consistent, and just try to make sure the preparation and effort is there every night.
What does it speak to the club that you guys were able to win these last few nights without Damian?
It just shows that everybody’s stepping up and everybody’s playing with confidence. I feel like that game against Cleveland really helped us gain our confidence and we’ve been playing great defense lately as a team, and I feel like our defense is helping us offensively. We’re out there moving the ball, executing. The game just feels fun for us right now.
For you [indiscernible] the bench, earned minutes and then get minutes. What’s it like for you to be so productive in this league?
Just, you know, it’s what I’ve been waiting for ever since I got into the league. All the hard work is paying off. Can’t get complacent, you just got to keep working hard. My opportunity is there and I’m just trying to take full advantage of it.
Three weeks ago you probably would have called 16-17, like, a great game. Is it getting to the point where 20 seems like just you playing?
I just feel like more and more the games are going on, I’m just confident, man. That’s all you can really say is confidence. Nothing special that I’m doing, just going out there and playing basketball, executing, and the offense is perfect for me, running off of screens, flares. We’re an unselfish team and when we get that ball moving, I feel like we’re really hard to stop.
What did you like about the way you guys closed this one out tonight?
Well, yet again, we closed another one out. In Sacramento off of a back-to-back, it was a big win for us to be able to finish a fourth quarter and win a game. Same with tonight. This is very similar to when we were in Denver earlier in the season. We had a chance to close out the game, didn’t move the ball, and just didn’t execute down the stretch, whereas tonight we had some mistakes, but I thought we did a much better job closing the game out, protecting home court, and getting a win.
Four straight games of double-figures for you for the first time this season; are you feeling good about where your game is at right now?
Yeah. I’m feeling more confident every game, finding different areas of the court to try to score, and not only that but, again, trying to be in the paint, trying to continue to get better with my defending—whether it be in the post, whether it be in the pick-and-roll, whether it be on help side defense. Just trying to become as complete a player as I can and continuing to rebound. I only had one in the second half, which is frustrating. I’ll certainly look at the film and figure out how I can be better, but overall I feel like I’m definitely moving in the right direction and our team is moving in the right direction, so that feels good.
Quicker to help. I think our rotations are a little quicker from the perimeter to the bigs and the bigs to the perimeter, so I just think defensively we’ve taken a step forward and we’ll continue to get better too.
Was there, like, a defining time or was that brought up?
I would say New Orleans. No disrespect to them, but they aren’t one of the better offensive teams and they looked like the best when they played against us. So we made some changes. The staff pointed out some things on film that had to change and guys have been making changes.
We invite you to help send 2000 underprivileged kids to see the Blazers play the Sacramento Kings on March 28th. Your ticket donations make this possible. You can donate through this link:
Promo Code: BLAZERSEDGE
Ticket Costs range from $7-13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)
You can also call our ticket rep, Lisa Swan, directly at 503-963-3966. You will need to indicate to her that you are donating the tickets you order to Blazer's Edge Night.