Bruce Brown knows his role. Although he’s in the starting lineup, he’s not a bulk scorer and isn’t a primary offensive player. Many times, when he gets the ball, it’s an open shot because his defender double-teams to help out on Blake Griffin or Andre Drummond.
In the past 20 games, Brown had scored in double figures just twice. His 12 points against the Hawks on Friday was built from aggressive play and some plays in transition. Some back-and-forth trash talk with Hawks rookie Trae Young stoked his fire and brought out his strongest attribute — defense.
“It’s defense but the other big thing is the energy — being out, pushing in transition and making easy plays for everybody on the floor,” Brown said. “The easy plays, Blake Griffin can make, I’m there so he can save his body.”
Brown started in the season-opener after an injury to Reggie Bullock and sprinkled a few games in a starting role. Since Dec. 26, he’s been a regular in the first group and has been up and down on the offensive end but has faced some of the top perimeter players in the league in his baptism by fire in the league.
He had a five-game stretch in which he totaled two points and coach Dwane Casey wondered aloud if maybe Brown had hit the proverbial rookie wall after playing so many games in the first half of the season.
Brown, 22, said he was fatigued, but getting a few days off last week for the All-Star break helped him to regroup and rejuvenate himself.
“I needed the break; I needed some time off to get away from basketball and get my mind off things,” Brown said. “My routine of being on the court is reduced and I’m feeling more fresh. It was definitely physical. Mentally, I was fine. It was just being tired and having heavy legs.”
Among the starting group, Brown is having to earn his stripes but the bar is low for his scoring, with just five points total in the last two games, but his value remains on the defensive end, where he continues to learn the ropes.
He’s a good rebounder but that talent also gets lost in the mix, with Drummond, the best rebounder in the league, and Griffin, who get the lion’s share on the boards.
“(Griffin) calls it. If I hear him, then he gets it; if not, I take it,” Brown said. “I’m a big rebounder. I think I can average six or seven rebounds a game but they’re over me.”
Langston Galloway has had his share of struggles in January and February. His scoring dipped to 5.9 in that span and his field-goal percentage fell to 36 percent, with 34 percent on four 3-pointers per game.
In the first part of the season, he had become an asset off the bench, but his struggles were notable during the recent stretch of 24 games, including three straight scoreless games in the past two weeks. Galloway has bounced back with 17 points against the Heat and 13 against the Pacers. It’s his first back-to-back games scoring in double figures since late December.
Casey said he’s contributing in other ways as well.
“Defense —that’s what he gave us (against the Pacers). Even if his shot wasn’t falling, he gave us a presence on the ball, speed and quickness and toughness on the ball with Bruce out of the game or giving Wayne (Ellington) a break,” Casey said. “He gave us that presence in a pick-and-roll game and he did a great job of pursuing to get back in front in a pick-and-roll defensive situation.”
Casey likes Galloway’s toughness and his long reach, which helps him to get in passing lanes and to guard bigger offensive players and not give up too much.
“He has a physical toughness about him and a stick-with-it attitude defensively and he makes mistakes like everybody else but he has a toughness to guard bigger guys,” Casey said. “He did a good job at Miami. I’ll err on the side of toughness and hard play and it’s even better when his shot is falling.”