After slowly watching their record dip well below the .500 mark, the Portland Trail Blazers finally started getting back to some winning basketball.
Even though the previous week saw a split (a loss to Denver, then a win against Minnesota), one aspect of Portland’s game is incredibly different; that change lies with the play of the Blazer bench.
Putting up league worst numbers for points off the bench (by a very large margin, at that), Rip City’s reserves have been a liability all year. Nolan Smith is hardly looking like an NBA caliber back up point guard, Luke Babbitt can’t find his three point stroke for two consecutive games, and Meyers Leonard is too much of a raw talent at this point.
All of those factors, along with the awfulness that was Ronnie Price, put immense pressure on the starters to produce at a high level, each and every night.
Then Eric Maynor was traded to Portland, and that bench was sprung to life. Sure, it took a few games to really get the chemistry going, but moving forward Maynor provides the kind of spark Portland so desperately needed for its second unit.
With a 7 game losing streak in the rear view mirror for Portland, things should be looking up as they work through the last two months of the season. Playoffs may still be out of reach, but Portland sits in a much better position than they were predicted to be, so don’t count these guys out just yet.
Now, on to the weekly awards.
First Star: Damian Lillard (3/2: W vs. Minnesota)
In Brandon Roy’s homecoming (he didn’t play but got a weak standing ovation) it was Portland’s current big time rookie that put on a show for the Rose Garden crowd.
In a team high 39 minutes, Damian Lillard poured in 24 points–on 9-18 from the floor, including 2-5 from long range and a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line–while adding 6 rebounds and 4 assists, to go along with no turnovers. A very efficient night for the newly minted Rookie of the Month for February, Lillard continues to shine for Portland.
Second Star: JJ Hickson (3/2: W vs. Minnesota)
With just two games on the week, and one victory, the recognition comes solely from Portlands matchup against the Timberwolves.
JJ Hickson, Portland’s own double double machine, was up to his old tricks yet again this past Saturday night as he recorded his 32nd double double on the year.
In 27 minutes, Hickson notched 18 points–on a staggering 7-8 from the field, including 4-7 from the charity stripe–while grabbing a game-high 16 rebounds, to go along with 3 assists.
Hickson’s outstanding play this year will certainly earn him some offers from teams around the league, looking to benefit from the type of motor JJ displays on a nightly basis.
Third Star: Eric Maynor (3/2: W vs. Minnesota)
The newest addition to Rip City comes in for the Third Star this week for the incredible effort he displayed against Minnesota.
Maynor logged 31 minutes Saturday night, and while scoring just 7 points–on 3-7 from the floor and 1-2 from deep–dished out a game-high 12 assists, and grabbed one rebound, off the bench.
The assist total was his highest in a Blazer uniform, and showed that Portland’s bench may very well be improving with the addition of the guard. Maynor won’t be expected to dish double digit assists each night, but this kind of production, from a backup point guard, will be welcomed with open arms whenever he’s on the court.
Dunk of the Week: Meyers Leonard vs. Denver Nuggets
There was at least one thing to write about from Portland’s matchup against the Nuggets last week, and it was Meyers Leonard‘s posterizing dunk over former Trail Blazer Andre Miller. Sure, Miller is considerably shorter than Leonard, but it still brought the Rose Garden to their feet. Enjoy!