The Trail Blazers rolled over the hapless New York Knicks on Tuesday at the Moda Center, ending a two-game losing skid by pummeling one of the league’s bottom feeders. The blowout win was much needed for the struggling Blazers, but more importantly the game allowed Stotts to reach deep into his bag of tricks.
He tested new lineup pairings, went deep into his bench well before the game got out of hand and even mixed in a little zone defense.
“The way things are going, we are trying different things, different lineups,” Stotts said. “[I] talked to my assistants earlier today about what can we look at. We are trying to find different things.”
Anfernee Simons was the first sub of the game, as Stotts turned to the three-guard lineup featuring Simons, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum at the first possible opportunity. Simons has been one of the first players off the bench all season, but lately he’s been replacing McCollum, not joining him on the wing next to Lillard.
“Me, CJ and Ant -- our minutes together have been positive for the team. So why not?,” Lillard said. “I think (Stotts) was just rolling it out there and seeing how it would go.”
The tinkering may have started with the first substitution, but it was the theme of the entire night. Stotts went deeper into his bench than he typically stretches, playing 10 guys in the first half and getting Gary Trent Jr., who hadn’t played since Nov. 23, an extended shift in the second quarter.
The Blazers mixed in some zone on a couple defensive possessions before halftime, and Stotts also rolled out a super-big lineup with Hassan Whiteside and Skal Labissiere sharing the court for the first time this season. The very early returns on that two-center look were positive as the Blazers outscored the Knicks by 11 points in the six minutes Whiteside and Labissiere shared the court.
“I think it’s good,” Whiteside said. “Skal reminds me a lot of Zach (Collins). I think we could do it more. I’m glad coach had that confidence to go out there. I think it could work.”
The Knicks are 4-20, and they lost their 10th straight game on Tuesday night in Portland. Part of the Stotts’ willingness to experiment is simply because New York’s roster is a mess. But the other side is a real need for the Blazers to find some combinations that work. There probably won’t be many more nights where the Balzers zone up on defense. And the Whiteside-Labissiere pairing, while effective against the non-shooting, non-dribbling Knicks frontcourt could be a tough combination to trot out on most other nights.
But this was more about process than results. The willingness to mix things up is more significant than whether the experiments proved fruitful or could be repeated. At 10-15 Blazers need solutions, and on Tuesday the coaching staff showed it’s ready to search for remedies in new places.
“I mean we’ve struggled to start the season so right now why be afraid to try different things if what we’ve been doing this whole time has been giving us issues anyway?” Lillard said. “You gotta be willing to step outside your comfort zone and do things. But as long as coach is doing that with faith that it has a chance, and when he puts us in those positions we do it with confidence, and like we believe in what we’re doing, I feel like it’s going to have a chance to work. So that’s all that counts.”