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Blazers bench steps up when needed

Wright, McCollum provide boost in Matthews' absence

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers Writer
Published: March 30, 2015, 12:00am

PORTLAND — Since the injury of Wesley Matthews, the Portland Trail Blazers have simply been trying to figure it out.

It was clear that no one player could replace all that Matthews brought, but it was also clear that players waiting in the wings would get major opportunities to contribute to the team.

Belief that the Blazers can go far in the playoffs is still strong, and if LaMarcus Aldridge unleashes total domination like he did against Houston last playoffs, anything can happen.

Arron Afflalo, an 8-year veteran in the league, has been looked as the player to replace the defense and shot making that Matthews brought.

Defense is head coach Terry Stotts’ biggest concern, but Portland has found some nice production off the bench as of late.

Two players at different points in their career have really stepped up off the perimeter to provide a punch: second year guard CJ McCollum and 10-year veteran Dorell Wright.

“It’s easy for me to bring energy and stuff like that,” Wright said. “I know how important it is getting ready for the playoffs.”

Wright has been much more aggressive driving to the rim since Matthews went down. Throughout his tenure in Portland, he has been used almost exclusively as a spot-up shooter. But Wright is showing he can do a lot more than that.

“Wes being out, we lost a lot as far as someone coming in and being aggressive like he was,” Wright said. “There’s nothing to it. Nobody came to me and told me. It’s just something I’ve been doing. Just playing basketball, for real.”

Players in the NBA, especially career role players like Wright, are often told to build on their strengths and stick to them. But Wright has shown over this recent stretch that his strengths come in many forms.

“He’s a very versatile player,” said Robin Lopez, who reportedly took in some spring training with Wright during their recent trip to Phoenix per Blazers team reporter Casey Holdahl. “It’s important to have a veteran guy like that coming off the bench for us. I think the biggest thing about it is he’s extremely professional.”

Added Stotts: “He’s been able to defend his position. He was guarding Rudy Gobert in the fourth quarter in Utah. Guarding Morris in Phoenix. He’s really been a spark.”

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The Blazers have consistently outplayed their opponents with Wright on the court, defending and scoring at a high level. Wright is tied with Joel Freeland, for the team’s best on-court point differential when adjusted for pace.

Now that he’s gotten minutes again, McCollum’s getting the type of rhythm he needs to put the ball in the bucket.

“The guys come in and really move the ball,” McCollum said. “I’m just trying to be aggressive, trying to pick my spots. Just trying to be consistent each night.”

McCollum scored a career high 23 points against the Warriors last week but has averaged just under 10 points per game in 20 minutes off the bench in the last 10 games.

“He’s been not thinking about it,” Damian Lillard said. “He’s been coming out and just hooping. We need him to come out and be aggressive, not be worried about mistakes. That’s what he can do for us.”

Said McCollum: “I’m just trying to take advantage of each game. Each situation is different. You got to feel it out and at the same time pick your spots and trying to attack.”

Columbian Trail Blazers Writer