Blazers bench is not sitting out in win over Chicago

Portland starters do their job, and bench supports in win over Bulls

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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photoPortland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, left, drives on Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, middle, as he is screened out by Trail Blazers forward Jared Jeffries during the first quarter Sunday.

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PORTLAND — They won't stroll to the scorer's table then immediately hoist jumpers like Chicago's instant-offense Nate Robinson.

Collectively, they'll spend most of the game with their warmups still buttoned.

And as individuals, none of them will likely receive votes for NBA Sixth Man of the Year, as those honors usually go to reserve players who log plenty minutes and score like starters.

But they're the Portland Trail Blazers bench, and right now they're performing plenty fine, thank you very much.

During the Blazers' 102-94 win over the Chicago Bulls, the starters all reached double figures while the bench, for its part, contributed in smart and subtle ways.

Ronnie Price scored — he hasn't shown much of an offensive punch this season, but neither have his bench mates. But on Sunday night he dropped 10 points and handed out a team-high five assists.

Jared Jeffries scored four points and grabbed four rebounds, and made his homestate Indiana basketball purists proud with his biggest contribution: setting innumerable screens and forcing Chicago into three offensive fouls, two as charges. Jeffries also stayed on the floor for 22-plus minutes - his soon-to-be 31-year-old body hasn't recorded that much playing time since Feb. 22 when he was still a New York Knick.

Before tipoff, coach Terry Stotts described the bench through the last two games as being "productive in the context of how they play." Ring this one up as a third straight productive night — and maybe it's a coincidence but the Blazers (5-5) have won all three games.

"The fact that we have lost some tight games, you have to find something that's wrong, right?" Price said. "That's normally what goes on when you lose games, you try to find something to fix a problem. But we never looked at it as a problem to be fixed, we always looked at it as a team problem to be fixed and not a bench problem."

Maligned through much of this early season for its NBA-worst 12.4 points per game, the Blazer bench took plenty hits as observers tried to reason the team's 2-5 start.

"I felt like a lot of it was unfair because the amount of minutes we were playing," said Jeffries about the unit that averages about 12 minutes a game, which also ranks last in the NBA.

"It's very difficult in the league, when you're playing five minutes here, three minutes here, to really be consistent and have a good effort off the bench. Especially when you're not like a microwave or instant-offense type player. I don't think our bench really has that."

They do, however, have players who can hit open shots, make plays for others and brace for offensive fouls as Price and Jeffries led the way in doing on Sunday.

When Jeffries relieved starter LaMarcus Aldridge with a little over three minutes to go in the first quarter, he immediately dropped into the defensive stand and the scouting report should have warned Kirk Hinrich what would happen next. The Bulls led 22-21 and just two offensive possessions after Jeffries had checked in, Hinrich went around a Taj Gibson screen and thought he had a red carpet to the rim but Jeffries stepped in front, crossed his hands in front of his waist and took the charge.

When Price subbed in for Damian Lillard near the start of the second quarter he squeezed through the rotating door of starters and turned out to be the one constant during the Blazers' run.

Price created an opportunity for Aldridge near the top of the key for him to take one dribble in and drain the 20 footer, and later bounced a pass to Nicolas Batum on a fastbreak dunk. Price also popped off five points during his second-quarter run and though he will never be confused for Robinson, who scored 18 for Chicago in a reserve role, his playmaking helped as the Blazers seized command with the 51-43 halftime lead.

"Those two guys, they've stayed in the league a long time doing what they do," Stotts said. "Jared Jeffries is a solid basketball player, he does all the little things that go unnoticed — well I think basketball fans notice it, but they're not in the box score. Ronnie, that was obviously his best game of the season. He was a plus-18 in his 20 minutes on the court. He made shots, he dove on the floor, he battled Rip Hamilton. He did it on both ends of the floor."

In the fourth quarter as the Bulls trimmed what was once a 15-point Blazer lead, Jeffries played more significant minutes in the place of starter J.J. Hickson and rookie Meyers Leonard, who was dogged by foul trouble.

When the oldest Blazer entered the game with 9:24 on the clock, the Blazers only led 75-73 but that advantage would stretch out again to 12 points with Jeffries doing the little things like defending the post. The Bulls finished the night with 54 points in the paint but only scored one field goal from close range during the point in which Jeffries walked onto the floor until 5:04 remained in the game.

“We’re figuring out our roles," Jeffries said. "Figuring out what he wants from us individually and as a group off the bench and I think we’re doing a much better job with executing the game plans, coming in for our starters and giving them breaks.”