Chauncey Billups has been emphasizing defense and ball movement since he was hired as the Trail Blazers‘ head coach in June, and that combination was on display in a win over Phoenix Saturday night, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic. Billups inherited a team that reached the playoffs eight straight years under Terry Stotts, but has lost in the first round in four of the past five seasons. He is determined to take the Blazers to a new level, and he said that starts with breaking bad habits.
“I could have taken this job and just kept everything the same and said ‘All right, let’s be a little bit better defensively.’ But they (the players) want more. I want more,” Billups said after his first career coaching victory. “You can’t keep everything the same and expect different results. So, I could have done that. ‘We are going to run everything y’all used to run.’ Great offense, boom, bam. Well, there’s a ceiling on that, in my opinion. Not only in my opinion, we’ve seen it play out.”
The players seem to welcome the new approach, even though it’s delivered with a hard edge. Damian Lillard, who has been the subject of trade speculation, has said that talking to Billups made him more open to staying with the organization. Jusuf Nurkic was so inspired after hearing Billups’ introductory press conference that he flew from Bosnia to Portland to meet his new coach.
“He’s very detailed,” Nassir Little said. “And not just Chauncey, all the coaches. They are very detailed in what they are saying. They don’t let anything slide through the cracks as they are teaching. The way they break things down, from close-outs to footwork, to who goes where on rotations, it’s all so detailed.”
There’s more from the Northwest Division:
- The Trail Blazers believe Norman Powell avoided a serious injury to his left knee Saturday night, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Powell left the game in the second quarter, but the results from initial tests are encouraging, Wojnarowski adds (Twitter link). Powell will undergo an MRI, according to Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian.
- Veteran guard Patrick Beverley has been impressed by the willingness to accept instruction he sees from his new Timberwolves teammate Anthony Edwards, per Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. “A lot of young guys, especially No. 1 picks — that’s no discredit of course to anybody — guys think they’ve got it figured out already …” Beverley said. “He’s always wide-eyed, bushy tailed and eager to learn. He’s like a sponge. He soaks up everything.”
- Injuries limited Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to 35 games last season and he’s still adjusting to being back on a full-time schedule, notes Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. “I think it only makes it harder the longer you go without playing,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “With that being said, it’s no excuse. Guys in the NBA do it all the time. I just gotta figure it out.”