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Joe Alexander Blasts the Milwaukee Bucks, Explains Overseas Move

In an exclusive interview, Joe Alexander is critical of the “dysfunctional” Bucks and explains his overseas move.

David Pick

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When you start typing Joe Alexander’s name into Google, the site tries to finish the search for you by adding the word “bust.”

The fact that this is the first suggested search for Alexander bothers the former NBA lottery draft pick, because he hates that the label has been attached to him.

Alexander, once considered the most athletic prospect in the 2008 NBA Draft before going to the Milwaukee Bucks with the eighth overall pick is constantly reminded that he didn’t live up to expectations in the NBA.

Alexander was selected ahead of players such as Serge Ibaka, Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Nicolas Batum and Ryan Anderson among others. But he appeared in just 67 games in the NBA, suiting up for the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls over one and a half seasons, before he was out of the league.

He knows many people look at him as a failure, but he believes the Bucks are just as much to blame for his struggles.

“I don’t think there is a hard definition of what a ‘draft bust’ is,” Alexander told Basketball Insiders. “Ultimately not being in the NBA is on me, but as far as ‘who is a bust?’ you have to look at Milwaukee and the management that drafted me. If you want to label anyone with the term ‘bust’ — it’s the Bucks. When Milwaukee drafted me, I was touted as a ‘project’ and someone with a lot of potential who could contribute had I learned to play the game. That’s what the Bucks told me. I needed time. I didn’t start playing basketball until I was 16 years old, but I was the most athletic guy in the entire draft. The Bucks knew that. Everyone understood this. I could’ve been drafted by any other team in the league and they would’ve given me time to develop.

“Obviously the No. 8 pick is expected to have an illustrious and longer NBA career than I’ve had, so that’s fine, but I think that Milwaukee should certainly share that [bust] label. They contributed heavily to it. Heavily. For the Bucks to pull the plug on me, I thought, was dramatically irresponsible on their part. What it did was label me as some sort of a problem player. It made everyone in the league look at me different when 12 months before any team would’ve died to have me.”

Injuries and struggles certainly affected Alexander’s NBA career, but he believes he was also the victim of a dysfunctional regime.

Alexander made it clear that he felt abandoned by the organization that once believed in his abilities. All he wanted was a fair shot, but he feels he didn’t receive that.

“I had a normal, mediocre NBA rookie season,” Alexander said. “If you look at my per-36 numbers, I was on par with every player in the draft except for Derrick Rose. There are players in the league who a few years ago played spotty minutes and made mistakes, but were able to learn from them. That’s an opportunity I wasn’t given in Milwaukee.”

Alexander was selected under the umbrella of long-time owner Herb Kohl, general manager John Hammond and head coach Scott Skiles. Kohl sold the team to Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens last year and Skiles was fired as the team’s head coach in 2013. Hammond is the only individual still with the Bucks, as he continues to serve as the franchise’s general manager.

It seems that Alexander’s biggest issue was with ownership and he believes a big reason for the Bucks’ turnaround this season is the transition to Lasry and Edens. Milwaukee is currently 21-20, which puts them in the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed, and on pace to make the playoffs after finishing with the league’s worst record last year (15-67).

“The biggest change in that organization now, and the reason for its success, is the new ownership,” Alexander said. “As anyone in the business world knows, organizations function from the top down. When the guys at the top of the pyramid are changed, the whole culture of the organization changes. Having been real close to situation, I know that it was very dysfunctional when I was at Milwaukee.”

Alexander insists that others shared this same opinion of the Bucks’ brass during his stint with the team.

“I was told by coaches, during and afterwards, that I fell into a tumultuous situation, a dysfunctional situation,” Alexander said, “Coaches who were with me expressed regret that I didn’t get to go somewhere else and experience how real NBA teams work with young players.”

In the years since, Alexander has had stints with D-League teams, a Russian squad and, now, with reigning European champions Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel as he tries to resurrect his career and find a path back to the NBA.

Having recovered from a stress fracture in his foot, which forced him to take a two-year absence away from basketball, Alexander bounced back by becoming one of the top power-forwards in the D-League. He averaged 21.7 points, eight rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 13 games for the Santa Cruz Warriors – numbers that would normally turn heads in NBA circles.

Yet, with the D-League Showcase on the horizon and Alexander emerging as a virtual lock to get a 10-day call-up to the NBA, he made a bold move and signed overseas in late Dec.

“I was trying to make a push to get back to the NBA, but I left the D-League when I started to get the feeling that no matter how well I played, nobody cares,” Alexander said. “To me, that thought was a living hell.”

Alexander penned an agreement worth ­­­­$16,000 per month for the remainder of the season with the Israeli powerhouse. For the sake of comparison, the value of his D-League contract was $19,000 total for the season.

Over the weekend, as Maccabi’s huddle crumbled at center-court after a Euroleague prep-practice, reporters mobbed Alexander ahead of his Euro-competition debut against Spanish favorites Barcelona. He was coming off of an impressive performance, scoring 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the floor and adding eight rebounds in 25 minutes during a 103-76 triumph over domestic rival Ironi Nahariya.

Still, things just didn’t add up. Why did Alexander opt-out of his D-League pact just one week before the showcase, as opposed to waiting for that NBA opportunity? The timing seemed strange, to say the least.

“I thought going overseas was a necessary change, especially to Israel and Maccabi which are a respected league and team,” Alexander said. “Along those same lines, I feel like the future of D-League players is unknown.

“One season, there might be just 10 call-ups. The next season there could be 35 call-ups, and then there is the factor of who sticks in the NBA? I worked real hard this season to put up another five-or-seven points and grab at least three more rebounds each game, but NBA executives would look at the numbers and be like, ‘Who cares?’”

He also felt like the best-case scenario staying in the D-League would be getting a 10-day contract from an NBA team, which wouldn’t have provided him with any long-term security or a real opportunity to show what he could do in the NBA.

“Don’t get me wrong, considering where I was with injuries getting a 10-day contract would be beyond words to me, but I don’t think NBA teams are seriously considering D-League guys for long-term roster spots,” Alexander said. “The prospect of playing at a high level overseas and getting a longer contract is a risk I was willing to take. I wouldn’t spend a whole season not getting paid in hopes of a 10-day call-up. That’s not my ultimate goal.”

Alexander made it clear that he valued his time in Santa Cruz and that the D-League is more competitive than most people think, but he just didn’t think it was right for him at this time.

“The outside perspective of the D-League is at an all-time low, but the Santa Cruz team I played for was phenomenal,” Alexander said. “A lot of guys that go overseas can’t score in double-figures in the D-League after believing it’s a joke and that they could walk all over it. I’ve seen that all the time. NBA players come down to the D-League believing they’ll wreck the league and get called back up, and then some of them can’t even break the lineup.”

Officials for Maccabi scouted Alexander in the flesh during a pair of back-to-back showings versus the Idaho Stampede. Alexander stood out with ease, registering 22 points and seven rebounds as the Warriors won both encounters. Though he knew nothing about Israel, it didn’t take long for Alexander to pull the trigger and kill all hope of an NBA contract this season.

Heading overseas wasn’t all too unfamiliar for Alexander, who turned 28 years old last month. He was born in Taiwan, and he traveled the world due to his father’s employment. From Taiwan, Alexander relocated to the United States then to Hong Kong then to China and then back to the U.S. all before his junior year of high school.

While he was exposed to diverse cultures throughout his upbringing, and though he was a stud in college with West Virginia (admittedly to his surprise), it was his time in the pros with the Bucks, Bulls and later with the Hornets (with whom he never appeared in an actual game) that really frustrated Alexander. He was always told what to do and pigeonholed as a certain kind of player, even though he completely disagreed with the assessments. He was told not to do things that he felt were his strengths, and this irritated him. He feels like he his image caused people to misjudge his game.

“There’s an element in the basketball culture, especially in the NBA, that looks at clean-cut guys like myself and assumes what we can or can’t do and that followed me throughout my NBA career,” Alexander said. “I became sick of it, so I looked around the league to guys who had similar games as me and that at one point in their lives were clean-cut such as Mike Miller and the ‘Birdman’ (Chris Andersen). [I realized] those players had long hair, tattoos, things like that.”

While a member of the Texas Legends, Alexander wanted to send a message so he grew his hair long, just like Miller’s. His campaign in the D-League was a success as he averaged 20.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per contest, earning a spot at the All-Star game. He then got an arm-length tattoo, just like Andersen’s, which consisted of three things that symbolize him most: a basketball (to represent his love and passion for the game), wings (for his incredible athleticism and hops) and a skeleton (to exhibit his inner-demons that battle his clean-cut image).

“I got the tattoo because I was sick of people telling me to shoot three-pointers and I was sick of people telling me to not put the ball on the floor or attack the rim, because that’s my game,” Alexander said. “In college, I was a bruiser and it was understood I was going to knock people around, and that I was super-athletic and super-skilled. But in the pros, it’s a different culture. It’s assumed, no matter how many times we hit people, that clean-cut players are soft – and I was so sick of that. I want my image to reflect who I am as a basketball player.”

Alexander has been through a lot over the last seven years, but he finally feels in control of his life and career. He’s enjoying his time overseas, where he’s doing everything to shed his draft bust label and change the way he has been perceived in the past.

David Pick has extensively covered European basketball and American players abroad since 2010. His work can be found at Eurobasket.com and ONE.co.il. Follow him on Twitter @iamdpick

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NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southeast Division

With the All-Star Break behind us, the final stretch of NBA games has commenced. Quinn Davis takes a look at a few teams in the Southeast Division that have a chance at making the dance.

Quinn Davis

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Well, that was fast.

With the NBA All-Star break in the rearview, there are now fewer than 30 games to play for all 30 NBA teams. In other words, time is running out for certain teams to improve their seeding in the conference.

Here at Basketball Insiders, we will be looking at a certain subset of teams that are right on the border of making or missing the playoffs. In this edition, the focus will be on the Southeast Division.

The Southeast features three teams — the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards — operating in the lower-middle-class of the NBA. These three will be slugging it out over the next month-and-a-half for the right to meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

The two remaining teams are the Miami HEAT and Atlanta Hawks. As this is being written, the former is comfortably in the playoffs at 35-20, while the latter is comfortably gathering more ping pong balls at 16-41.

In this space, the focus will be on the three bubble teams. The Magic are currently frontrunners for the eighth seed, but the Wizards and Hornets are within striking distance if things were to go awry.

Led by head coach Steve Clifford, the Magic have ground their way to the eighth seed behind an eighth-ranked defense. Lanky wing Aaron Gordon is the standout, helping the Magic execute their scheme of walling off the paint. The Magic only allow 31.3 percent of opponent shots to come at the rim, putting them in 89th percentile in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.

Following a post-break loss to Dallas Mavericks, the Magic sit at 24-32 and three games up on the ninth-seeded Wizards. While a three-game margin doesn’t sound like much, that is a sizable cushion with only 26 games to play. Basketball-Reference gives the Magic a 97.4 percent chance to make the playoffs.

The Magic have the third-easiest remaining schedule out of Eastern Conference teams. They have very winnable games coming against the Bulls, Hornets, Cavaliers, Knicks and Pistons. They also have multiple games coming against the Brooklyn Nets, the team they trail by only 1.5 games for the seventh seed.

The Magic are prone, however, to dropping games against the league’s bottom-feeders. It can be difficult to string together wins with an offense this sluggish. The Markelle Fultz experiment has added some spark in that department, but his lack of an outside shot still leaves the floor cramped.

After a quick analysis of the schedule, the most likely scenario appears to be a 12-14 record over the last 26 games, putting the Magic at 36-46 come season’s end. A record like that should not be allowed anywhere near playoff basketball, but it would probably be enough to meet the Bucks in round one.

If the Magic go 12-14, that would leave the Wizards, fresh off a loss to J.B. Bickerstaff and the Cleveland Cavaliers, needing to go 17-11 over their last 28 games. They will need to finish one game ahead as the Magic hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Wizards finishing that strong becomes even more farfetched when you consider their remaining schedule. They have the second-toughest slate from here on out, per Basketball-Reference.

The Wizards do have a trump card in Bradley Beal, who is the best player among the bubble teams in the East. He has now scored 25 points or more in 13 straight games and has been the driving force behind the Wizards staying in the race.

He has also picked up his defense a bit following his All-Star snub in an effort to silence his critics. The increased focus on that end is nice, but it would’ve been a little nicer if it had been a part of his game earlier in this season when the Wizards were by far the worst defense in the league.

Even if Beal goes bonkers, it is hard to see a path for this Wizards team to sneak in outside of a monumental collapse in Orlando. Looking at their schedule, it would take some big upsets to even get to 10 wins over their last 28. Their most likely record to finish the season is 8-20 if all games go to the likely favorites.

The Wizards’ offense has been impressive all season, but injuries and a porous defense have been too much to overcome.

The Hornets, meanwhile, trail the Wizards by 1.5 games and the Magic by 4.5 games. They have won their last three in a row to put themselves back in this race, but they still have an uphill climb.

The Hornets also may have raised the proverbial white flag by waiving two veterans in Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The goal coming into this season was never to make the playoffs, so they are likely more interested in developing young talent over these last 27 games.

If the Magic do play up to their usual levels and go 12-14, it would require the Hornets to go 18-9 to finish the season against the sixth-toughest remaining schedule in the East.

Devonte’ Graham and his three-point shooting have been a bright spot for the Hornets, but it would take some otherworldly performances from him and Terry Rozier down the stretch to put together a record like that. Basketball-Reference gives this a 0.02 percent chance of happening (cue the Jim Carrey GIF).

Barring a miracle, the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are locked in place. The only questions remaining are how seeds 2-6 will play out, and whether the Magic can catch the Nets for the seventh spot.

The Wizards will fight to the end, but it is unlikely they make up any ground given the level of opponents they will see over the next six weeks. The Hornets, meanwhile, are more likely to fight for lottery odds.

At least the playoffs should be exciting.

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NBA

The Pressure Is On Anthony Davis

The Rockets’ and Clippers’ strong commitments to small-ball show that the Lakers’ opponents are zeroed in on stopping LeBron James. If the Lakers want their next title, Anthony Davis has to prove he can take over for a contender. Matt John writes.

Matt John

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LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of his generation and arguably of all-time. No matter how old he is or how many miles he has on those tires — 48,014 minutes total as of Feb. 20, good for eighth-most all-time among NBA players =- he is not to be underestimated. The Los Angeles Lakers know they have a window on their hands, but with LeBron on the wrong side of 30, they know that this window won’t be for too long. Unfortunately, so do their opponents.

This brings us to his partner-in-crime, Anthony Davis. Throughout LeBron’s era of dominance, he’s always had a Robin to his Batman. Dwyane Wade needed time to adjust to it. Kyrie Irving was so perfect for the role that he grew tired of it. Anthony Davis has embraced it since day one.

LeBron and AD have been as good as advertised. Together, the two of them possess a net rating of plus-10.3 when they share the court. They don’t actually run the pick and roll as often as we thought they would – LeBron only runs 26 percent of his plays as a handler while Davis has been the roll man for 13 percent of his plays – but when they do, it’s efficient.

LeBron’s effective field goal percentage as a pick-and-roll handler is 47.5 percent and draws and-1’s at 3.5 percent, which is pretty high for that sort of play. He ranks in the 67th percentile as a handler. Davis’ effective field goal percentage as a roll man is 61 percent and draws and-1’s at 4.9 percent. He ranks in the 72nd percentile as a roll man.

They may not run this in LA primarily because their old school play of playing big probably eats up the spacing. Since the Lakers have the fourth-highest offensive rating in the league, scoring 113.6 points per 100 possessions, it’s not a problem at the moment. This might change in the playoffs, but we’ll get to that.

Something else to note is that Davis’ numbers have stayed relatively the same since going from New Orleans to LA. His scoring average has gone down just a tick, but that’s to be expected when you’re playing next to LeBron James. Davis’ rebounding numbers have taken a more noticeable dip, but having him play next to Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee probably has something to do with that.

He and LeBron have led the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference. According to Tankathon, they have the 10th-easiest schedule for the rest of the season, so the odds are in their favor of finishing out on top. Of course, their elite production as a duo is about as shocking as Martin Scorsese’s movies getting nominated for Oscars.

The Lakers are expected to make their deepest run since the last time they won the title in 2010. Even if they are among the league’s biggest powerhouses, they’ll have plenty of competition along the way in the Western Conference. Without going into too much detail about who that is — because you probably already know who that is — let’s focus on the two competitors who have been making major shakeups since the trade deadline, the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Both may have executed different trades, but both had the same goal in mind when they made them.

When the Rockets traded Clint Capela — their only traditional center that was playable — for Robert Covington, a two-way wing that they believed they could mold into a small-ball five, they traded their size for switchability and versatility. Not only that, they doubled down on their strategy by bringing in the likes of DeMarre Caroll and Jeff Green, two swingmen who have played some minutes at center in their career but very, very few.

When the Clippers traded Moe Harkless — who was doing just fine for them as their third wing — they opted to go for an upgrade at the wing spot instead of another big by trading him among others and a first-round pick for what’s likely to be a short rental of Marcus Morris. They could have used Harkless to get another big to combat the Lakers’ size, but instead opted to add more grit to the wing department. The deal also opened up a few more spots on the roster, but they too opted not for more size, but for another scorer in Reggie Jackson.

Acquiring those wings demonstrates that they have coined the exact same gameplan to taking down the Lakers should they face them in the playoff — slowing down LeBron James.

Slowing down LeBron is a strategy that just about everyone has been familiar with since 2003, but very few have been successful at executing it because, well, there doesn’t really need to be an explanation when it comes to the subject of LeBron James.

By doing everything in their power to make LeBron’s life miserable, they are in effect going to dare everyone else on the Lakers to beat them, and that starts with Anthony Davis.

We know how good Anthony Davis is, but we don’t really know how good he’s going to be when the stakes are higher. Davis’ numbers in the playoffs should hardly concern the Lakers’ faithful. He’s averaged 30.5 points and 12.7 points on nearly 53 percent shooting from the field. The one number that could be concerning is that those averages come from only 13 playoff games total.

Davis is hardly to blame for the lack of playoff success in his name. Injuries ravaged the Pelicans continuously, and the best players he’s played with in the postseason are Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Rajon Rondo. The numbers suggest he carries his weight.

He should have less weight to carry when and if the Lakers enter the playoffs, but because their competitors are doubling down on their small ball to make sure LeBron’s covered as tightly as possible, the pressure will be on Davis to keep it going.

Posting up against small lineups shouldn’t be an issue for Davis because he’s been efficient on post-ups this season. On a frequency of 22.8 percent, Davis has a points per possession (PPP) of 0.95 when posting up. Davis is averaging five points while shooting 47.8 percent from the field in the post up throughout the entire season. His efficiency in the post up ranks him in the 63rd percentile. He’s not Joel Embiid or even LaMarcus Aldridge in that area, but he’s reliable.

Still, time will tell to see if it translates in the playoffs. In the Lakers’ most recent game against the Rockets, we got our first sample of how LA will fare against Houston’s new scheme. LeBron struggled with it, putting up just 18 points on 8-for-19 shooting while turning it over six times. The switchability and intelligence that their defenders possessed made life difficult for him.

It was a different story for Davis. He had an excellent game. 32 points on 14-of-21 shooting, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks because he dominated the very undersized center Houston threw at him. Despite that, the Rockets prevailed 121-111.

They were more than happy to let Davis dominate them as long as they took LeBron out of his comfort zone, and it worked. Games like that should make you want to keep your eye on this. Teams know that LeBron James is a nuclear weapon during the NBA playoffs. They have yet to see if Anthony Davis can be the same. If he can’t pick up the slack when LeBron is off his game, then that changes the ballgame.

Davis is an elite player. He has done a lot in his NBA career. He hasn’t had the opportunity to show that he can take over for a contender when the stakes are dialed to 11. When the playoffs arrive, we’ll finally see what he can do.

There shouldn’t be much doubt as to if Davis can do this. There should be much pressure as to if he’ll be able to do enough.

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NBA Daily: Picking Up The Pieces In Portland

The Portland Trail Blazers continue to fight for their playoff lives. Damian Lillard’s recent injury is just another obstacle that this team must hurdle to survive. Chad Smith looks at one player that may be emerging off of their bench just when they need it most.

Chad Smith

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The home stretch has begun, and most teams around the league are pushing for a better playoff seed.

The postseason begins in less than two months and many teams are just hoping that they are able to be part of it. That is the case in Portland, where the Trail Blazers find themselves on the outside looking in as they trail the Memphis Grizzlies by 3.5 games for the final spot in the West. They also have four teams right behind them that are hungry for playoff basketball.

The story of the 2019-20 Blazers has been injuries. It began last season when they lost their starting center Jusuf Nurkic to a devastating leg injury that he has still not fully recovered from. Zach Collins was more than ready to fill in, but he suffered a shoulder injury in their third game of the season and has been out since having surgery on it. The organization made a Hail Mary trade for Hassan Whiteside, who has actually played very well for them this season.

Rodney Hood had been a staple for Portland since they acquired him, but he was lost to a season-ending injury earlier in the year. Desperation may have ultimately led them to sign Carmelo Anthony, but he has undoubtedly been a positive addition to the club. The trade Portland made with the Sacramento Kings was thought to have just been a cost-saving move, but Trevor Ariza has been an excellent fit with the first unit.

The latest setback came in their final game before the break when the face of the franchise suffered a groin injury. Damian Lillard has been having an MVP-worthy season, on the heels of what was one of the greatest playoff buzzer-beaters in league history. Fortunately, the injury was deemed mild, and he should only miss a few games. It may be cliché, but it has been the moniker for Portland all season: Next man up.

Early in the season, it appeared as though their 2018 first-round pick Anfernee Simons was going to have a breakout year. After putting up strong numbers in the first couple of months, he was seen as a highly sought after trade target. Simons has cooled off considerably since then, and it has been the play of their other second-year guard, Gary Trent Jr., that has turned some heads.

Appearing in just 15 games as a rookie last season, Trent Jr. has had more opportunities to show what he can do this year. Amid all of the injuries and movement in Portland, he has shown the ability to hit shots and defend. The sophomore swingman just turned 21 last month, but he has the maturity and understanding of a player with more experience.

A large part of that can be attributed to his father, Gary Trent, who was traded to the Blazers after being selected 11th overall in the 1995 draft. While he didn’t turn out to be an All-Star player, he did play for nine seasons and appeared in more than 500 games. His son may not end up being a star, but they both know this is an excellent opportunity for him to showcase his talents.

The former Duke product began his rise in the middle of January after putting up 30 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder, followed by another 20 points against the Dallas Mavericks. He didn’t slow down in the final handful of games before the All-Star break, either. He scored double-digits in four consecutive games against tough competition in Denver, San Antonio, Utah and Miami, where he shot 65 percent (20-for-31) from deep. Those final two games were against elite defenses, in which he put up 38 points while shooting 7-for-15 from downtown.

So far in the month of February, Trent Jr. has shot 48 percent from the floor, 45 percent from three-point range, and is averaging 12 points and 1.4 steals per game. Those are all solid numbers for a third-string guard, but now he will be relied upon more heavily in the absence of Lillard.

It will be interesting to see the adjustments that Terry Stotts makes without his superstar point guard on the floor. CJ McCollum will likely have a higher usage and handle the ball more than he has before. The Blazers struggle mightily with shot creation. While the veteran two-guard will be looked upon to provide play-making for this group, it will be up to guys like Trent Jr. to knock down open shots and make the correct reads and rotations on defense.

Stotts appears to be leaning on Trent Jr. more often — and for good reason. Both he and Simons played in all 15 games in January, with Simons averaging about one more minute per game. Trent shot 39 percent from deep compared to Simons’ 23 percent. What Stotts really likes is how Trent Jr takes care of the ball. In those 15 January games, he had just four total turnovers. He also played 36 minutes in one of those games and finished without a single turnover.

As good as Whiteside has been at protecting the rim, Portland remains one of the worst defensive teams in the league. It ranks 26th in opponent scoring and has the 27th-ranked defensive rating. Trent Jr. is much bigger than the aforementioned Simons. He is actually bigger than McCollum and Lillard. The size and length that he possesses allow him to guard multiple positions and really help create deflections.

In his role as an off-ball scorer, Trent Jr. just fits really well alongside the Blazer backcourt. Even when one of them is out, he has found a way to excel. Over his last 15 games, he is averaging 12.5 points per game on 44.2 percent shooting from three-point range. They may need Trent Jr. to steal some minutes from the McCollum and Lillard, as they both rank among the top 12 in minutes per game.

Easing all of these injured players back into the rotation is going to be tricky. There will be some bumps and some hiccups along the way, but time is simply not on their side. They have just 26 games remaining, and several teams are fighting for that same spot. The good news for Portland is that only four teams have an easier remaining schedule.

A healthy Portland team is a dangerous playoff team. Getting Lillard back is paramount, but getting Nurkic and Collins back into the rotation with Carmelo and Whiteside would be monumental for this group.

A potential first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers would be tantalizing, to say the least. It will take some work for this team to get back into the playoffs, but then again, they have never backed down from a challenge.

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