Blazers' Leonard gets a lift

Backup center back in Portland rotation

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer

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As Joel Freeland emerged as a dirty-work guy for the Blazers bench, Terry Stotts gave him the minutes Meyers Leonard had last year.

Freeland is one of Leonard's best friends on the team. As Leonard has worked to climb back into Stotts' rotation, he credits Freeland and others with helping keep his head on straight.

"Obviously (assistant coach) Kim (Hughes) who's been around the league for years ... said to stay positive and work as hard as you can," said Leonard. "Joel, who obviously kind of went through the same thing I did last year so he said stay positive, you're going to be fine."

Being jumped in the rotation helped a light a fire under the 11th pick in the 2012 NBA draft.

In what Leonard says was the team's first full practice in about a week and a half on Friday, Stotts mentioned to him that he would be back in the rotation.

"I wanted to help that second unit out with a little bit of spacing," Stotts said after Saturday's win over New Orleans. "Meyers has a good understanding of spacing, he sets screens, he and Joel (Freeland) play well together."

Stotts said that he was pleased with Leonard's play Saturday. He grabbed four rebounds, blocked a shot and made his only field goal attempt.

Robin Lopez, too, was happy with Leonard's contributions in Saturday.

"We were all very happy with what he did. He was active, he got some boards for us. He was confident with his jump shot and he protected the rim," Lopez said.

Leonard's teammates have been reinforcing that confidence, sometimes stopping practice when he doesn't shoot open shots.

Patience has been the key for Leonard as he has worked to try and get back into the rotation of the team tied for first place in the Western Conference.

Looking at the numbers, it's easy to see why Stotts thought the offense with second units needed help.

Lineups with the Joel Freeland-Thomas Robinson tandem have been scoring at a rate that would come in as the 23rd ranked offense in the league according to NBA.com at 99.1 points per 100 possessions.

That's a precipitous drop from the Lopez-Aldridge front court that is scoring 113.1 points per 100 possessions.

Defensively, those second units with Freeland and Robinson haven't been very good either, surrendering points at a rate that would be worst in the league.

The Blazers have been better than their opponents when Freeland is on the court, but the same cannot be said for Robinson as the Blazers have been outscored by 10.4 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court according to NBA.com.

With Leonard in the front court alongside Freeland, the hope is that those units don't have such a dropoff on offense, according to Stotts.

Now that he's back on the court, he vows to keep the same work ethic that landed him back in the rotation.

"But one thing's for sure, I'm going to be in there working," he said. "Continue to grind it out and try and get back in the rotation, but also physically working out as hard as I can, busting it no matter what."