The Trail Blazers have found something.
You could call it togetherness. Or just old-fashioned team basketball built on the growth of their young players.
Where did it come from? Maybe you could say that the evolution of Damian Lillard has led to the evolution of his teammates.
Portland won its sixth game out of its last seven Sunday night in Dallas, edging the Mavericks 121-118 with six players in double figures, hiking its record to 16-10.
Like the last several victories, this one came with contributions from just about everyone in those new brown uniforms.
“I mentioned that to the team afterwards,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “Everybody is contributing and doing what they do well, whether scoring or defending.
“So, I think there's a trust. I think there's confidence at the offensive end. You point to the scoring, which I think most people do but, you know, I just think everybody's doing their part and a lot of times it does show up in the box score as far as scoring, but I think it goes on both ends.”
Lillard led the way offensively, scoring 34 points and handing out 11 assists. And, of course, he nailed the game’s biggest shot, a three-pointer from the top with 32.8 seconds to play that broke a tie at 116.
Carmelo Anthony then turned playmaker, feeding Derrick Jones under the basket with a sizzling bullet pass for a layup with 6.9 seconds left for the game’s final points.
All that was left was a miss of a wide-open three-point shot at a tie by Luka Doncic, who had a terrific game but misfired on his biggest shot.
Lillard, his team’s unquestioned leader for years now, talked about what has gone into all of the contributions of his teammates. And how he’s tried to help them develop the confidence to contribute when their time comes. And then tried to give them a platform to show it.
“In the past, I would have probably taken it more upon myself to, you know, maybe score more or dominate the ball a little more or whatever the case may be,” he said. “But this year -- I spend a lot of time in the gym, especially late in the summer -- I see GT (Gary Trent) in the gym. Ant (Simmons) and I work out with the same guy in the summer. I've seen Nas (Nassir Little) in the gym in the summer. Enes and I text and talk. Carmelo and I we text.
“This year, I feel like my approach hasn't been so much, take it upon myself, as much as it's been about giving other guys the stage and showing that belief in them. And giving them a chance to to do what they do.
“There’s a lot of talent in the league. We've got a lot of talent on our team. But guys need experience and they need, you know, the people who they watch the most to show faith and to give them a stage to sink or swim -- to show what they can do and to show that they can help the team.
“And this year, I've taken it upon myself to an extent, but I've also shown GT, a lot of love and attention in that way, where it's like, if you’re open, I’m giving it to you. If you’ve got it going, I'm gonna call the play to keep you going. And Ant, when you get in the game, you be the one -- you call the plays. And if you’re open, I’m going to get it to you.
“So I think when guys feel that genuine care and that genuine belief from me, I think I figured out that you get more from them."
And that's really what's going on. Injuries have opened the door for several players to get more time on the court and they are taking advantage of it.
“You know, if guys play with confidence they'll go harder and you're able to keep the team on the same page and focused on winning more," Lillard said, "And I think that's just been the evolution for me.”
Take a glance at the boxscore for proof. Dame is still scoring -- but his assist totals are up and his teammates are coming through with more help.
But sometimes a leader’s biggest assists aren’t shown in the boxscore.
They’re shown in a team’s overall improvement.