NEW ORLEANS – Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said he will consider using a twin-towers approach tonight against New Orleans, defending Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins with Jusuf Nurkic and Meyers Leonard, but he said he will more likely go with another strategy: Al-Farouq Aminu against Davis.
“I’m open to it (Nurkic and Leonard together), but Chief is my first option,’’ Stotts said. “Chief has guarded Anthony Davis in the past.’’
Stotts said he will not start Aminu – likely sticking with Noah Vonleh and Nurkic as his frontcourt – but the Blazers’ defensive ace will likely see the most time on the Pelicans’ star.
Aminu was hurt in the first meeting between the teams, prompting Stotts to start Ed Davis alongside Mason Plumlee. Davis is out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery and Plumlee was traded to Denver in February.
New Orleans is 3-6 since acquiring Cousins. One of the wins came while he was suspended for technical fouls, another he fouled out and the latest win – in overtime against Charlotte – he didn’t play for the final 9:25.
“It’s difficult to bring a guy into a team and learn things on the fly and get chemistry,’’ Stotts said. “ What has happened with us and Nurk, is the exception rather than the rule. Like I said, both are such talented players they are going to figure out what works and Alivin Gentry is such a terrific offensive coach. That part of it will come around but for the time being they are working on figuring it out.’’
Damian Lillard said the Blazers, who have won 5 of 6, need to capitalize on the mood of each team.
“We have to use that to our advantage: us playing the way we are and them trying to figure it out,’’ Lillard said. “We should come out and prepare for them to play well, because you never know, as good as they are to come out and explode on any given night.’’
Captain carry: In the Blazers’ win Sunday in Phoenix, Stotts praised Lillard for shouldering the responsibility of carrying the team to victory.
“We willed us to that win,’’ Stotts said.
Lillard, who scored 28 of his 39 points in the first half, said he doesn’t feel any burden or responsibility to carry the team because he trusts his teammates. He went through each teammate – from Aminu to Maurice Harkless to Allen Crabbe to Shabazz Napier -- and remarked how everyone is contributing of late.
“So I don’t feel like I have to shoulder and carry the load,’’ Lillard said. “It’s more just leading and making sure we are sharp in our coverages, and making sure we communicating and managing the game more than anything else. Just trying to control it. Last game I felt like I did a good job of it.’’
Meyers mid-range: One of the evolving aspects of the Blazers has been the mid-range game of Meyers Leonard, who has become effective with floaters and short jumpers of late.
Leonard said he found that coming off the bench into the game and then immediately taking a three was challenging. He said he finds he can get into a rhythm better by making a dunk or a short-range shot.
“I check in and get an open three and it’s not an easy shot to make,’’ Leonard said. “So I’m looking to play more in the mid-range because then the three’s become easier.’’
Stotts said it’s good for players to change their approach, and it reminds him of how Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki was constantly adapting.
“Meyers is reading the game, and the half-roll to mid-range is there for him,’’ Stotts said. “You have to change it up because the defense game plans for certain things. You can’t do the same thing all the time.’’
Shabazz shining: One of the subtle contributions recently has been the contribution of point guard Shabazz Napier off the bench, both offensively and defensively.
“I like the way he is running the team,’’ Stotts said. “I think he is really focused on getting guys shots, looking to the run the offense. Defensively he has always been a good defensive player for us.’’
Stotts said the major benefactor has been CJ McCollum, because it allows McCollum to play off the ball more.
Tonight's game: Blazers at New Orleans, 5 p.m. (CSN).