When Norman Powell arrived in Portland after a March 25, trade-deadline deal with Toronto, the Trail Blazers switched to a three-guard starting lineup.
Derrick Jones Jr. was replaced by Powell. And at the same time, Jusuf Nurkic returned to the starting lineup from a wrist injury and things got better for the Trail Blazers at both ends of the floor.
Was the lineup change a tough decision for the coaching staff?
Not really. Actually, there was no decision to make.
“He was coming in as a starter,” Coach Terry Stotts said Wednesday. “That was an easy decision. The first game he played was Orlando, and Dame didn't play that game. But ever since then, I think the plan was for him to be a starter, so that really wasn't that difficult.”
And it has proved to be a great trade for Portland. Powell has provided three-point shooting, defense and floor spacing that has been a part of the Blazers’ late-season resurgence.
“From day one, that that group of Dame, CJ and Norman has consistently been a positive, productive threesome. So, to continue along that way, was really not that difficult, either.”
There has been an adjustment, but Lillard seems to like the way it has turned out.
“I mean, it's been cool,” he said. “You know, I think everything in our league now is numbers-based. Everybody's talking about the numbers with this lineup, the numbers with that lineup -- when this guy's on the court and when that guy's on the court.
“I believe the decision was based off what the numbers looked like with that three-guard lineup on the floor.
“And I think we played well. You know, I think Norm gives us an element that we didn't have next to me and CJ. You know, it’s another guy who can handle the ball, get to the rim, get to the free-throw line. Just a physical athlete with the ability to do the things that he's been doing since he's been here. He gives us a different look.
“And, you know, he's also a big guard. He's not really tall, but he's physically present, physically strong and athletic so he can guard those bigger wings and, you know, I feel like the lineup has worked for us.”
So does Stotts – who also includes Nurkic in that picture.
“I think defensively, it's been solid,” said the Portland coach. “Frankly, it coincided with Nurk coming back, so I think it's difficult to separate all of that because we got Norman and Nurk back at the same time.
“So, they all play together. That has to be part of it as well. But I think we've been a slightly better offensive team. We were already a top five offensive team. But defensively, adding him and Nurk is kind of what tipped the scales.”