If it looks like the Trail Blazers are playing better basketball recently, it might be because the team has a better feeling about coming to work.
The Blazers (21-28) are still on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff seeds, but they have won three of four and have been decidedly more competitive of late, as evidenced by their 113-111 loss to Golden State on Sunday. With 33 games remaining, they are 1.5 games behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot.
“It just feels better to go out there and play knowing we are figuring out the right things to go, and the right way to play,’’ Damian Lillard said.
On Tuesday, the Blazers will play host to Charlotte (23-25) with a chance to record their first winning month of the season since going 2-1 in October. Charlotte, the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, beat the Blazers 107-85 on Jan. 18.
“I think we are trending in the right direction,’’ Lillard said. “We are playing better than the last time we played them. But we have to continue that.’’
The biggest change since the first meeting with Charlotte has been the Blazers’ starting lineup. The game after the Charlotte loss, coach Terry Stotts shuffled his starting lineup, inserting Evan Turner and Noah Vonleh in place of Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu.
That new lineup has gone 3-2, with Turner becoming a key figure both offensively and defensively. Defensively, Turner has accepted some of the top defensive assignments, whether it be Boston point guard Isaiah Thomas, Memphis point guard Mike Conley or Golden State forward Kevin Durant.
Offensively, he has alleviated the pressure on Lillard and CJ McCollum to create every possession and has been a catalyst in some of the Blazers’ positive runs. All told, in five games as a starter, Turner is averaging 10.6 points and 5.2 assists with only seven turnovers.
“I just do what coach asks,’’ Turner said. “Get in where you fit in. We have two featured guards who are the face of the franchise. You have to be smart enough to know where you fit in. I know it’s hard to score and defend in this league, so I try to complement them as best as I can.’’
Since beating the Blazers, the Hornets are 2-4 and have lost four in a row with losses to Washington, Golden State, the Knicks and Sacramento. This is the first of a three-game trip for the Hornets.
Inside the Blazers, the concern is more with themselves than their opponent. Stotts said he likes the Blazers’ defensive approach recently, which included what he called an “alert and active” defense against Golden State.
“We just have to keep it up and come out and compete and be prepared for the next game,’’ Turner said.
That task might be easier now that things appear closer to falling into place.
"I think we know within ourselves that we're improving and we're playing much better based on the last week and how we've played,'' Lillard said.
Note: Ed Davis was ruled out for Tuesday's game because of a sore left wrist. He on the court after Monday's practice but it was unclear what he did as Stotts said "what you see now" in response to Davis' participation. Davis was standing in the key after doing some light drills against a practice dummy. Tuesday will be his fifth straight game missed with the wrist injury.
Next up: Charlotte at Blazers, 7 p.m. Tuesday (CSN).