In recent weeks, the Portland Trail Blazers have been forced to push through the season despite both lengthy absences from featured stars and culture-shifting trades. Yet, their on-court product hasn’t suffered as of late, with wins over the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers, talented New York Knicks and the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks. In his column today, TrueHoop’s David Thorpe hypothesized that the reason why boiled down to a few key aspects: energy, passion, selflessness and on-court freshness.
After spending most of the season, and many of the last few seasons among the NBA’s basement in passes made and potential assists, the Blazers’ new gritty, ragtag bunch now sits among the top. They’re among the top-10 in passes made, secondary assists, potential assists and overall points created. As Thorpe notes through Blazers insider Casey Holdahl, Monday marked the first time in 19 years in which all five starters had at least four assists.
He also hits on the Blazers’ rest advantage, a disguised blessing in the number of injuries they’ve toiled through in 2021-22. As of late, they’ve proved impervious to it:
“One last reason: every Blazer interviewed post-game used the word “energy.” By mid-February, almost every NBA starter is notably slowed by the league’s grind. Several of the Knicks who lost to the Blazers are among the league leaders in minutes played. Meanwhile, today’s Blazers don’t have a single player in the top 50 in total minutes played. Jusuf Nurkic is 63rd in the NBA this season. Anfernee Simons is 68th. Josh Hart is the only other current Blazer in the NBA’s top 100. CJ Elleby, Trendon Watford, Greg Brown, and Elijah Hughes all rank 300 or below.
Many years ago the Spurs determined that fresh bench players could often outplay tired superstars. G-League players might not win you a championship, but they can hold down a second quarter in mid-February. There are losses to be had by playing tired and banged up—this is exactly why the Blazers lucked into the Bucks without Giannis. There are also wins to be had by developing a bench you trust, especially this time of year.”
In his article, Thorpe hits on a few examples and plays that highlight the Blazers’ freshness and how they’ve used it to create hustle plays and unselfish set-ups for one another. He also discusses the renewed relationship between the squad and Head Coach Chauncey Billups.
Portland, now 24-34 and back into that crucial No. 10 spot in the Western Conference, will seek to keep the ball rolling against the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies tonight at 5:00 pm PT.