Trail Blazers playing very hard… and most important, being rewarded for it

Trail Blazers playing very hard… and most important, being rewarded for it
February 26, 2014, 8:15 am
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Blazers stave off Nuggets climb in mile high

A couple of things should be pointed out as the Portland Trail Blazers attempt to grind out a few more wins without their star power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge.

First, Damian Lillard is stepping up to fill the void, as we knew he would. Understanding his team needs him to score more frequently, Lillard quietly goes about his business and does whatever his team and coaching staff asks of him. The bigger the stage, the bigger the performance from Lillard. But you knew that.

Another point I wanted to make, though, is that Portland's really having to grind some of these games out. Yes, the schedule has been helpful -- especially with all the home games. And home games make it much easier for bench players to perform as they feed off the energy and passion of Moda Center fans. But more than that, the Trail Blazers are running into serious issues from game to game without Aldridge but are overcoming them with grit and determination.

And the important thing about that is their effort is being rewarded with victories. That's no small thing. If you play hard and still lose, it becomes more difficult to play hard. If you play hard and win, it can become part of your DNA. I've seen it many times in professional sports -- if teams, or individuals for that matter, are not rewarded with success when they put forth extra effort, that extra effort can disappear very quickly.

The Blazers -- who probably couldn't have chosen a better bit of their schedule to be without Aldridge -- have not played particularly well in his absence. But that can be excused because Aldridge is such a huge part of their team at both ends of the floor. The big thing is that the team's determination has allowed it to alternately overcome off nights from the field, on the boards, on defense and off the bench. This team has a habit of finding a way.

And Coach Terry Stotts has been playing a coaching version of "Whac-A-Mole" lately, trying to solve one deficiency before another one pops up. He's finding answers, too, in some tight spots where answers were hard to find.

It's working. I'm not sure how much longer it's going to work, but it's working.