Blazers Beat: Nassir Little, CJ Elleby make most of their time
What's ahead: The Blazers are back at Moda Center, having been scheduled to play Orlando on Tuesday, Feb. 9, and then Philadelphia at 7 p.m. Thursday (TNT) and Cleveland at 7 p.m. Friday. Portland plays at Dallas on Sunday, Feb. 14, Oklahoma City on Tuesday, Feb. 16, and New Orleans on Wednesday, Feb. 17.
What's behind: Well, it was an interesting road trip. They dealt with injuries: Robert Covington (concussion), Derrick Jones Jr. (left foot sprain), Damian Lillard (abdominal strain) and even Nassir Little (left knee sprain, after having a big game) missed games — along with CJ McCollum (left midfoot fracture) and Jusuf Nurkic (right wrist fracture), of course.
Portland blew a 20-point lead in losing at Houston, and then Lillard buried two clutch 3-pointers in the final seconds, including the game-winner as time expired, in a 123-122 win at Chicago. He had 44 points.
Little scored 30 points at Milwaukee, but the Bucks scored 46 first-quarter points and had 39 assists in a 134-106 win Feb. 1. But, Little got hurt, and missed the remainder of the road trip. Portland surged at the end to beat Washington, 132-121 Feb. 2 as Lillard and others (including Covington) hit lots of 3-pointers, and then inexplicably beat the NBA Eastern Conference leader, Philadelphia, 121-105 Feb. 4, despite playing without Lillard (abdominal strain); among the stars was rookie CJ Elleby, who had 15 points and seven rebounds.
Then, with Lillard back (and scoring 29 points), the Blazers couldn't score down the stretch, going 0 of 8 on the final six possessions in a 110-99 loss Feb. 6 at the New York Knicks.
Defensive work: Clearly the Blazers need to get healthy, if only to play better and consistent defense.
Portland was giving 116.2 points a game entering the week, which ranked 26th in the 30-team league. The Blazers were allowing 48% percent shooting (27th).
Portland was scoring 114.9 points a game, good for sixth in the NBA.
Lillard update: Lillard's scoring average was elevated to 29.1 points a game entering the week (fifth in NBA), while he's dishing out 7.3 assists and grabbing 4.5 rebounds per game. He's had less than six assists only five times in 21 games. He had a career-best 8.0 assists/game last season.
But, how much will Rodney Hood be playing some point guard with Lillard off the ball?
Covington and Jones: The two offseason acquisitions have been very good on the defensive end. Covington was averaging 5.9 rebounds and 2.3 steals (while scoring in double figures only four times in 20 games entering the week). Jones has scored in double figures three times in 18 games, but his athleticism has really helped on perimeter defense.
Player development: The Blazers have done a fine job developing young players, and perhaps it continues with Little and Elleby? Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. have given the Blazers quality minutes this season — Trent's surge started in last summer's NBA bubble.
Quotable 1: "Nas has had a tough go the last few months and it was good to see him get out there and see the ball go in the basket, get some extended run, and I was really happy for him," coach Terry Stotts said after the Milwaukee game. Little had COVID-19 earlier in the season, and admitted to really battling through the sickness to get back to normal and back on the court.
Quotable 2: "CJ Elleby had a great game for a rookie. He hasn't had much chance to play," said Stotts, after Elleby's 31-minute contribution at Philly. Elleby didn't leave the bench against the Knicks.
Online: For coverage of the Blazers, including all games, see portlandtribune.com.
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