TUALATIN, Ore. — Following their 96-79 dismantling of the Houston Rockets in Houston on Saturday, the Portland Trail Blazers are 11-3 over their last 14 games.
Over the last half of that stretch, the Blazers have tightened up their defense and their rotation.
The latter has been a most consistent contributor since head coach Terry Stotts went from a 10-man rotation to a nine-man rotation.
That has allowed bench players like Gerald Henderson — who found a consistently inconsistent role after returning from hip surgery — to flourish.
“There’s a comfortability that comes with that,” Henderson said. “Either way as a player, as a pro, as a vet, you have to be ready to go in whenever Coach calls your name. It does feel good to know when you’re coming in. It’s a blessing to be out there and play any time.”
His teammates have seen him grow within his role.
“He can do a little bit of everything and I think he’s just catching his rhythm,” Meyers Leonard said. “Sometimes new team, new system, it just takes a minute to figure out in game flow how to be effective.”
But as a unit, the Blazers bench has been gelling so well together that Stotts dared not mess with the rotation when starting power forward Noah Vonleh went down with a left ankle sprain.
Rather than break up the continuity building between Henderson, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis, he inserted Moe Harkless in the starting lineup to keep the bench together.
“I think guys can kind of anticipate now what the rotation is going to be for the first part,” Leonard said. “Guys are comfortable playing alongside each other. They know almost instinctually where the next pass is going to be. Within the flow of the offense, who might be open on this play or that play.”
Pairing down the rotation hasn’t been the only tweak the Blazers have made with their bench.
Leonard’s shooting allows him to function as a power forward in the offense and changes the game for Portland offensively.
However, his size and foot speed makes him more naturally able to guard centers.
The Blazers have made a conscious decision, according to Stotts, to stick Leonard on centers when he’s in the game while putting the quicker, skinnier Ed Davis on more mobile power forwards.
When Henderson, Crabbe, Leonard and Davis are on the court together, the Blazers have outscored their opponents — opposing bench units — by 7.4 points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com.
And for Henderson, who started from behind having missed training camp after hip surgery, his comfort has grown.
Learning the playbook was one step for Henderson being in a brand new system. But knowing how to play off his new teammates was something that took more time.
Now, he can see where his shots will come before they happen.
“When Dame drives a certain way, I can space here or I can cut here,” Henderson said.”CJ the same way. There was a backdoor cut last game where two guys came to him and my guy tried to help. He can make a shot over two guys, he’s done it all year. But I gave him that option for me to pass and he made a great pass. ”
The Blazers were without Crabbe in their win over Houston due to a stomach issue, but when he returns, the Blazers bench unit will be back in full once again.
After years of the Blazers reserves not adding much or relying mostly on one or two players, Portland has found a group that has allowed this push to the All-Star break to be so successful.