The Portland Trail Blazers were losing bodies at an alarming rate prior to Thursday night’s 106-95 win at New Orleans.
Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, Shaedon Sharpe and Keon Johnson. Out. Out. Out. Out.
The fallout was that coach Chauncey Billups had just one veteran bench player to lean on. Nassir Little.
He didn’t let the Blazers down. Especially in the second half.
“We needed Nas’ energy, we needed his shot-making, his athleticism,” Billups said. “And he just seemed really at ease out there tonight.”
Jerami Grant scored 27 points. Anfernee Simons had 23. But it was Little’s season-high 15 points off the bench on 6-of-11 shooting that made the performances of Grant and Simons hold up.
“I think I’m a good player so I think when I get on the court, I’m just going to try to do what I can,” Little said. “Take open shots, be aggressive and live with the results.”
Little did little offensively in the first half and the Blazers trailed 57-51 at halftime. Then Little scored five points in the third and eight in the fourth. Each basket seemingly came at the perfect time.
Little did a little bit of everything. He hit a three-pointer for the seventh consecutive game and is now shooting 46.4% from that distance. But mostly, he got to the basket for layups and dunks while routinely finding holes in the Pelicans’ defense.
“When he gets that slashing to the basket, he’s really effective,” Blazers forward Justise Winslow said.
Little said the opportunities simply presented themselves.
“In the second half, it just kind of flowed,” he said. “Just get in those modes at times where you’re just seeing the gaps the right way, being aggressive and things worked out.”
Billups said Little seemed to have an extra bounce to him during the game.
“He was aggressive the whole time,” Billups said.
When Little made a mistake, he was on himself before Billups could say something. In one instance, Billups said he called Little over to the bench to instruct the 6-foot-6 small forward about something he had done incorrectly. But Little waved at his coach, said he knew what he had done wrong and that he would take care of it.
“He already knew what it was,” Billups said.
Little, recovering from a shoulder and core muscle injury, got off to a slow start during training camp and ultimately lost out to Josh Hart in the competition for the starting small forward job.
But Little has been making his mark on the Blazers (9-3) by providing consistent energy when called upon. And on Thursday, he was called upon a lot.
“I feel like with guys out, guys got to step out,” Little said. “I think I’ve been playing pretty well all season but it’s just a matter of with guys out, get my opportunity and things like that happen.”
— Aaron Fentress reported from New Orleans.
— Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook). Subscribe to Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts