PORTLAND — Damian Lillard notices the difference.
Teams are looking for him more. They are showing harder on pick-and-rolls, trapping him and trying to get the ball out of his hands.
Without LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland’s second-year All-Star has embraced the burden of having to do more.
But in games that Portland is winning, everybody is having to pick it up — Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Mo Williams and Dorell Wright.
“It’s huge when Wes and Nico, Mo, D-Wright come in and make plays and make shots. With LA out, teams are giving me a bit more attention,” Lillard said. “It takes a lot of pressure off me, teams having to look at other guys and respect what they are doing.”
Batum is third in the NBA in rebounds per game in the month of March and Robin Lopez has continued his consistency that he’s brought to the center position all season long.
Matthews was key in Tuesday’s win against the Bucks, finding his 3-point shot.
But the work of Williams has been integral to Portland’s success not only as a small-ball, 3-point happy team without Aldridge but also in leading younger second units.
“We need Mo,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “For him to be able to play the minutes he’s playing and be effective, that’s why we got him here.”
Williams has been more efficient and has been scoring more in games without Aldridge, but he’s also played over 30 minutes in back-to-back games.
Younger and less experienced players such as Will Barton have credited Williams with putting them in position to succeed.
“We need these guys off the bench, these vets that can carry us in certain situations,” Batum said. “He’s been through a lot. He knows the game, he knows this league so you know when he gets a free-throw, you know he is going to make it. He’s going to make big shots.”
Batum later added that Williams also made the first basket of overtime in Tuesday’s win with his left hand.
Also, Batum and Williams have been even more instrumental as of late in help Lillard in playmaking.
“Nico can get out there and get 10-plus assists. Mo can go out there and get 10-plus assists. I don’t always have to be the guy to make the play,” Lillard said.
Lillard has stepped up. But with Williams finishing games and being a caretaker of second units to help lift the starters, he has elevated his play and he’s a big reason why the Blazers are 6-2 without their three-time All-Star forward.
They’ll continue to need Williams against the Washington Wizards who boast All-Star point guard John Wall and former Blazers Andre Miller coming off the bench.