Although the Portland Trail Blazers are fresh off of their biggest loss of the season and will be without LaMarcus Aldridge for the foreseeable future, they’re still learning about themselves.
For the past month, they’ve been learning about their smaller line-ups. Earlier in the season, those lineups were choppy and didn’t create the type of prolific three-point shooting and spacing that coaches expected.
With the time they’ve gotten together because of the Aldridge injury, they’ve been able to come together.
A product of chemistry has been the improved production of forward Dorell Wright who has now started 10 games this season at power forward in place of LaMarcus Aldridge. In the five games since Aldridge was hurt, Wright is averaging 12 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 38 percent from three.
The starting lineup with Wright and the other four starters is now scoring at a top-five rate while defending at a league-average level, which is a step up from some of Portland’s other secondary line-ups.
“When we first did it, it was different,” he said about the smaller lineups. “Now we have a little chemistry. Guys know what to expect from each other. They know if I don’t have a good hot I’m probably going to use my pump fake. Just mix it up.”
Wright, a 10-year veteran in the league who won a championship in 2006, shows that this is another example of patience.
“Things like this take time. We just have to build on it and cover ground until LA comes back,” Wright said. “That’s my job. I got to play as hard as I can until LA gets back.”
Terry Stotts has praised the small lineup that has started the last five games and has gone on the record saying that the Blazers “have to look at” Wright as the back-up power forward behind Aldridge.
Wright’s shooting has given those line-ups more spacing, which has also allowed more pathways to the basket for Damian Lillard.
“He can put it on the floor, he can make plays,” Lillard said. “And right now he’s really in rhythm. He’s hustling on defense, rebounding the ball, defending bigger guys. He’s doing a lot of things that we need him to do right now.”
As the Blazers play their final 12 games, they will await the return of Aldridge and back-up center Joel Freeland. But it appears that they will elect to mix in more small ball when they can once they are fully healthy.
“I think it’s awesome because other teams are going to have to match up with us,” said Wright. “We can go either way we want to. I think coach believes I can go in there and try and make the four man who I’m playing against make tough shots and just battle him. That’s my main thing, to battle.”
Lillard sees that the lineup is something that plays to their advantage because teams have to think about it.
“It’s tough because they have to adjust to it,” said Lillard “I think teams have a hard time with him being out there and spacing the floor. And LA comes in and he’s a presence on the block. A tough guard for everybody but I think it makes us more versatile. It gives team another look and something to adjust to.”