When the Trail Blazers acquired Gerald Wallace seven minutes before the NBA trade deadline, the clock barely passed noon before message board chatter and radio airwaves filled with debate about how long it would take for Wallace to join the starting lineup. Perhaps the focus should have been on the closing lineup. As coach Nate McMillan continues to experiment with different lineup combinations in the wake of the addition of Wallace and the return of Marcus Camby and Brandon Roy, the Blazers' coach clearly has settled on a closing five that leans heavily on Wallace, Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. And while starting brings individual cache, finishing plays a greater role in determining wins and losses. "They're All-Stars," Wesley Matthews said. "So that's who we're going with." Over the past five games, Wallace has played every minute of every fourth quarter except 58 seconds of Friday's 97-92 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats in Charlotte. Similarly, Roy has played the entire fourth quarter twice and hasn't played less than 9:17 in the past five games. Meanwhile, two starters -- Nicolas Batum and Marcus Camby -- have mostly watched crunch time from the bench. The two have combined to play just 6:01 in the fourth quarter over the past five games. Camby has sat the entire fourth quarter four times; Batum has sat the entire fourth quarter three times. McMillan says he likes the mix of offense and defense this closing unit provides, its ability to create good "spacing" on the court and the matchup problems it posses for opponents. Andre Miller usually plays alongside the threesome at point guard and Rudy Fernandez and Wesley Matthews alternate at shooting guard/small forward in a small lineup similar to the one McMillan used with success before the Blazers acquired Wallace. "I think it gives us the ability to go to a number of different guys," Roy said. "With LaMarcus, Gerald, myself, we can all create a basket. (The lineup has) a number of guys that can make big shots, especially in tough, close games." But the results have been mixed. Over the past five games, the Blazers (37-29) have outscored their opponent in the fourth quarter just twice -- in a home win over the Bobcats and in a commanding road victory at the Miami Heat. The biggest meltdown came in that road loss to the Bobcats as the Blazers blew a 10-point lead, missed critical free throws down the stretch and were outscored 33-22 in the pivotal fourth.
Blazers find new closing - not starting - lineup with Wallace and Roy
Oregonian | Mar 15