The buzzer had gone off and the Trail Blazers were celebrating their 126-124 win over the New Orleans Pelicans Wednesday night when Damian Lillard grabbed Derrick Jones and Robert Covington and shared a word with them.
A lot of people may be missing what the two forwards have been bringing to this team, but Lillard isn't. And he wanted to let them know, right there when
“I just told them to keep taking the challenge,” Lillard said later. “You know, I think when we brought those guys in we were saying, we’ve got two long, athletic, wing defenders that can really help us.
“And in the last couple of weeks, they've just been taking the challenge. It's not always perfect on none of our part, but they are so active, contesting shots, disrupting guys, getting deflections. RoCo has been at the rim blocking shots like a five man. DJ is getting deflections and rebounding the ball.”
There was plenty of that in this game, Portland’s sixth straight win that polished off a 3-0 road trip and brought the team’s road record to 10-5.
The acquisition of Jones and Covington was huge last offseason and the foundation of the stated intent of improving the Trail Blazers’ team defense. That is happening and both players are also starting to get their footing at the offensive end of the court.
The duo combined to go 11-14 from the floor, including 3-5 from three-point range, grab 15 rebounds, total four assists, four steals and six blocked shots.
Covington had six blocks Tuesday night at Oklahoma City and followed it up with four more. Jones scored a critical basket with 28.7 seconds to play off of penetration by Lillard, who finished with a stunning 43 points and 16 assists.
But Covington and Jones were brought in for defense and that’s where the game ended -- on the defensive end as the Pelicans tried to score ahead of the final horn.
But Portland wrecked whatever it was New Orleans planned to do by switching ball screens and dribble handoffs.
Chaos ensued, leading to Lonzo Ball missing a three-pointer and Brandon Ingram air-balling a 14-footer at the tick of :00.
“They have just been disruptive,” Lillard said. “They've allowed our defense to do things that we were able to do with Chief and Moe, like switching and kind of giving them different looks that are hard to play against.
“You know, trapping and double teaming and cross matching and things like that.
“So I just acknowledged the effort that they've been giving us that may not always show up on the stat sheet. Letting them know that we need you guys to do what you're doing -- and what you're doing is putting us in position to win.”
Jones said, “Going into this road trip, we had the mindset of keeping this streak going. And we’re going to keep it going. We’re going to go out there every day and play the right way. We know how we should play.
“We just have to get out there and play the right way. As long as we’re doing that, the sky’s the limit for us.”
And even with Enes Kanter the only center on hand and the Trail Blazers outrebounded by 20, the defense did just enough to win and the offense continued to drain three-pointers at a dazzling clip.
Portland hit 18-41 from three and outscored the Pelicans by nine points from the arc.
Ahead is a one-game stop at Moda Center for a Saturday contest against the Wizards, followed by another three-game road trip, this time against some of the best in the West -- Phoenix, Denver and the Los Angeles Lakers.