When Portland Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups informed Robert Covington last month that he would be stepping off the bench and Larry Nance Jr. starting in his place, the nine-year veteran didn’t bat an eyelid.
“When Chauncey approached me and said that to me, I was like ‘OK’,” Covington said.
No debate. No complaints. No questioning. No sulking. Just the acceptance and the willingness to see how it would work and do what was best for the team.
“My mindset has never changed and my approach has never changed,” said Covington. “Just because I wasn’t starting out didn’t mean everything was going to be different. I was always going to do the same thing I did. The only thing was that me and Larry were going to switch positions. “
This happened before the Blazers’ home loss to Minnesota on December 12. Billups said he believed at the time that Nance had become more consistent and that perhaps Covington’s scoring ability could help the Second Unit.
It turned out that whether or not it started didn’t matter to Covington. He received similar minutes and produced similar numbers while continuing to impact the defense with blocks, interceptions and deflections.
Fast forward to Monday night against Brooklyn and there Covington was back in the starting lineup for the third night in a row in place of Nance, who injured his knee on Jan.5 against Miami.
Covington scored 21 points on 6-on-9 shots, including 5 of 7 on three, while adding three interceptions and three blocks in a 114-108 win over the Nets.
So far this month, Covington is averaging 12.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 48.1 percent from three points. The Blazers (16-24) are 3-2 in January and while it’s only been five games, it has been Covington’s most productive month of the season.
“I’m really happy for RoCo because it’s been a year of ups and downs,” Billups said. “You start the season, it’s a bit difficult. And then I get them out of the starting XI. And I’ve been telling you since then, it’s like the pressure is off him and he’s playing with that different sense of ease. He was amazing. He really did.
The Blazers are minus Damian Lillard (abdomen), CJ McCollum (collapsed lung), Norman Powel and Nance. In their absence, Covington, 31, has decided to lead a team that now relies on several young players. Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little were also on the rotation. But Trendon Watford and CJ Elleby also made key contributions after rarely playing for most of the season.
“I want to see these guys succeed in so many ways and I want to be the guy who gets them there,” Covington said.
Covington operated as a huge shotmaker on Monday. But his calling card remains the defense.
In the second half, he helped limit Kevin Durant to eight points on 4 out of 10 shots after scoring 20 points in the first half.
“Rocco did a good job getting him to play in the second half,” said Simons. “I think he only made three more field goals after that. So it was important for us to slow it down.
But with so much firepower out of the roster, the Blazers need Covington to hit shots, especially the open three, and he’s done it.
“I love his aggression and his confidence in his shot right now,” Billups said.
At some point, Nance will return and likely join the starting lineup, so Covington will return to a backup role. But as long as he’s on the pitch, whatever the role, Covington plans to keep doing what he does.
“It’s not about whether or not you get started,” he said, “it’s about what you do when you’re in the game.”
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