Portland’s point guards present opponents with problems, McMillan says
PORTLAND — Logic, convention and tradition would seem to dictate that Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan cannot and will not rely on a starting rotation featuring point guards Andre Miller and Steve Blake in the same lineup throughout the remainder of the season.
However, McMillan was not interested in anything resembling convention and tradition when answering questions about the Miller-Blake tandem Sunday night before the start of Portland’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Rose Garden.
Asked several times and several different ways about whether he will eventually have to settle on a starting point guard once the Miller-Blake experiment is over, McMillan responded not with a declaration, but with an open-ended response that shined a light on his thinking process.
One word best summarized McMillan’s coaching logic: “Why?”
To McMillan, having Blake and Miller either in or ready to be inserted into Portland’s starting lineup at any time presents the Blazers with yet another advantage for a team whose loaded roster is already filled with tantalizing mismatch possibilities.
Moreover, McMillan said that by not settling right now on one, true point guard, Portland instantly pushes the agenda, forcing opponents to prepare for Miller and Blake — either individually or as a duo — at the same time.
“To say, ‘Who is the point guard?’ We’ll take advantage of how they’re defending whoever has our point, has one of our guards,” McMillan said. “Now, all of a sudden, if (Timberwolves point guard Jonny) Flynn is guarding Blake, and Blake is running around on the baseline, and a (shooting) guard is guarding Miller, what do they do?”
Sunday night, not much. Blake and Miller punished Minnesota, recording 11 points and five assists in the first quarter alone, and the duo propelled Portland to a 33-24 first-period lead.
The Blazers eventually won the game in a blowout, 116-93. And it marked Portland’s second consecutive impressive victory before the team embarked upon a seven-day, five-game road trip that begins with a 5 p.m. contest tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Asked whether the Blazers potentially become a stronger team with Miller and Blake in the same starting lineup — and easily substituted for each other throughout a game — McMillan said: “I think it does. Certainly. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think we could play this way.”
Before the win, McMillan referenced the Triangle offense made famous by Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson as factoring into his decision to put the ball in the hands of Miller and Blake at the same time.
“Blake can play some off guard,” McMillan said. “Some offenses, it’s a two-guard front — there’s just guards. The Triangle is just an offense; there’s not necessarily a point guard in that offense.”
Basketball theory aside, statistics have supported McMillan’s move.
Portland has averaged 106 points and is shooting 46.7 percent from the floor since Miller and Blake were inserted into the same starting rotation. In addition, Miller has come alive. The veteran point guard has played his best basketball of the early season and looks comfortable and energized on the court, following a rough, uneven start when he was coming off the bench.
“I think we’ve played well together so far,” Miller said.
But what happens when Portland faces big-name opponents led by big-time shooting guards, such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons?
While Miller said that opposing defenses will dictate when the lineup should work and when it will likely be altered, McMillan stated that he has no plans to constantly rotate Miller and Blake in and out of the lineup as starters.
“I don’t want to go that way, and I don’t plan to go that way,” McMillan said. “Your players will dictate that; I’ve said that. And you try to put your players in a position where you take advantage of what they do.”
McMillan also hinted that he has already made a decision about which player will be the team’s official starting point guard if and when either Miller or Blake lead Portland’s second unit in the future.
But for now, the Blazers are starting both. And McMillan’s gutsy move is paying early dividends.
“I looked at the schedule, and I thought about what we needed, and I went with this lineup,” McMillan said.