PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers were 6-1 in their last seven games, heading into Monday’s contest against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Rose Garden.
And while the Blazers have answered major injuries and setbacks with energy and toughness, two other key factors have aided Portland’s surprising streak.
During the seven-game stretch, the Blazers have limited their opponents to 96 points or less in six of seven games.
Secondly, Portland’s offensive turnovers have significantly decreased. The Blazers have committed 13 or less turnovers during the seven-game run, and Portland has turned the ball over just 19 times in its last two victories.
Blazers coach Nate McMillan said the Blazers’ improved defense is a result of a sharper focus and reduced slippage.
As for the lack of turnovers, McMillan attributed the impressive numbers to one player: guard Brandon Roy.
“Brandon is handling the ball more,” McMillan said. “We’ve limited — we’ve kind of gotten away from all of the guys handling the ball.”
Early in the season, players such as Rudy Fernandez, Martell Webster and Greg Oden were all seeing multiple touches, as the Blazers attempted to experiment with and alter their multi-dimensional offense.
Injuries have thinned out Portland’s roster, though. And as the Blazers have endured, they have also made changes.
“All of these guys were just taking their two or three turnovers per game,” McMillan said. “And that adds up when you have so many guys handling the ball.”
Now, ballhandling responsibilities are limited to Roy and point guards Andre Miller, Steve Blake and Jerryd Bayless.
But mainly Roy.
“That’s been pretty much how it’s gone the last couple years,” McMillan said. “Start of the season, everybody’s trying to do their thing. Then (later), Brandon’s handling the ball. And our turnovers go down.”
Monday’s game marked the first time Miller faced Philadelphia, his former team, since he was signed by Portland last summer as a free agent.
Miller played in 221 regular-season games for the 76ers from 2007-09, and twice led Philadelphia to the playoffs.
But the Blazers veteran point guard said playing against his former squad was nothing special.
“It’s just another game, really,” Miller said. “It’ll be good to see those guys and say what’s up. I haven’t really talked to them.”
The Blazers are 6-1 since Miller was re-inserted into the team’s starting lineup and Steve Blake was moved to a reserve role. And Portland is 13-3 overall this season with Miller as starter.
Despite the impressive numbers, Miller said the game feels no different to him while playing with the Blazers’ primary unit.
But one visible change in recent games has been Miller’s role in crunch time during Portland’s recent victories over Denver and San Antonio. The veteran guard has watched the majority of the Blazers’ last two fourth quarters from the bench, as McMillan has favored Blake and Jerryd Bayless.
Miller said he understands that McMillan is attempting to win games with a shorthanded lineup, and that Portland’s coaches are searching for late-game rotations that work.
Meanwhile, McMillan said he has turned to Blake and Bayless simply because they have been hot and in rhythm.
“I stuck with it,” McMillan said. “Just the flow of the game.”
Despite a report Monday that injured Blazers forward Nicolas Batum (shoulder) and guard Rudy Fernandez (back/leg) could rejoin the team by mid-January, McMillan said he is not concerned with issues that are outside of his immediate control.
For McMillan, it is out of sight, out of mind.
“The focus is the guys we do have in uniform, and (to) try and play our best basketball tonight,” McMillan said. “As they get closer, we’ll start to figure out ways to fit them in. But right now, they’re still a ways away.
He added: “Those guys are weeks, possibly months away from playing.”