In light of Portland’s incredible finish against the Miami Heat, after the ecstasy of victory faded away and no longer was I looking for someone to high-five after Wesley Matthews hit two clutch three-pointers in the final minute to win the game, all I could do is concentrate on where Lamarcus Aldridge was during the key moments? I don’t know what this says about me (or about Lamarcus), but I couldn’t help but think that the player on this team presumed to be the face of the franchise should have played a bigger role in such an important win.
This may be the wrong focus to have after such a team performance, but I think it deserves some serious thought, if not attention.
First things first, however, the Portland Trail Blazers literally sandwiched the Miami Heat in suffocating defensive pressure and consistent clutch offensive plays that allowed them to squeeze out a 92-90 victory. Literally, by the way, because it came in the first and fourth quarters. (If you don’t count Ronnie Price’s slippery lay-in at the end of the third; though I’m not sure why you wouldn’t?)
Portland jumped early and hung late, which is what young teams need to do when they’re trying to figure out their identity: just don’t allow the other team to put you away—especially at home—like how Portland was given the hook in Los Angeles a few weeks prior. Instead, it felt like the Blazers learned from that experience and played well enough to give themselves a chance late in the game… as opposed to trying to score 20 points on one shot, realizing it can’t be done, then just wishing for the game to be over.
And considering how well LeBron James normally plays in Portland that very well could have been the case.
I will confess that as I sat on my brother’s couch, sharing and enjoying both a beer and one of the final Blazer games we’ll be in the same room together for a while, there was something in air that made the game feel like magic was going to happen on national TV. I’m not saying I knew they were going to win, but there definitely was the sense the Rose Garden was ready to erupt; and when it does, it often really propels the team to victory. The Blazers had their hands in the passing lanes for timely steals, and continually found ways to make shots from different angles purely based off hustle plays. They also hit big shots, which is scary for other teams around the league. Every player that played did something well and helped the team win.
To that point, I want to get back to Lamarcus Aldridge’s performance in a game that meant a lot to this team going forward. Appropriately, a colleague sent me an article at the beginning of the game and we talked about whether Lamarcus was the best power forward in the NBA. After quickly making the caveat that Lebron James is the best everything all the time everywhere, we went about dissecting some of the interesting stats given to help Lamarcus’s argument. Like the fact that he is one of only four players averaging at least 20 points and eight rebounds this season; the others are Lebron, Kevin Durant and David Lee. After that, the three of us played “Would you rather…: Lamarcus Aldridge Edition” and asked which power forward you would trade Aldridge for straight up without hesitation, taking injury history and current roster into consideration. I said I’d trade Lamarcus for Lebron James and Chris Bosh without hesitation. For Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol two years ago (so I wouldn’t rather, I suppose). After discounting Zach Randolph since his last stint with Portland was, um… less than stellar, and full of crazy, the two most interesting were Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.
There’s no way I wake up tomorrow and am upset if we’ve traded Aldridge for Love straight up, injury history and all; I’m also not upset if we don’t at this point, which is incredible because I would have fed my grandmother glass-chip cookies for a chance at Love last season.
Blake Griffin though, while I wouldn’t argue he’s a better player that Lamarcus because I don’t think he is, I did wonder out loud if that trade doesn’t instantly make both teams better? I think it does. Lamarcus gets to clearly be the second best player and get passes from a point guard that lives to feed big men. Hell, Lamarcus thrived off of dishes from Andre Miller, imagine how full his belly would be with Chris Paul serving him. While Portland would then really be a running team willing to barrel through four cement walls with the same veracity as a high school boy on prom night. Damian Lillard, Blake Griffin, J.J. Hickson, Wes Matthews and Nic Batum running Terry Stotts’ offense would be the equivalent to giving Chaos four shots of espresso.
It was a fun game to play, but it was also more than a little frustrating because on a night where Portland knocked down the defending champs, whether or not you’d trade Lamarcus Aldridge shouldn’t be the conversation afterward; however, he didn’t really help his case throughout the evening. If you only looked at his box score, you’d have every right to question my logic, but hear me out: his 20 points came from shooting 6-19 from the floor, and while he made 8-10 free throws, the two he missed were in the fourth quarter. One with 90 seconds left, the other with ten and a chance to give the Blazers a full possession lead. Instead his miss had every Rip Cityian holding their breath when Mario Chalmers shot a wide-open three as time expired hoping it wouldn’t dart through the hoop and crush their perpetually deflated spirits.
Plus, he was 2-7 from the field in the second half. Repeat: Portland was down thirteen points to the defending champs at home, and their best player responded with two made field goals in the second half.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not starting a “Trade Lamarcus” campaign. I think that’s wrong because it’s unclear how to get equal value, or if you even can. But I also want there to be a level of perspective maintained as a result of his national TV test.
Obviously, before anything negative is questioned about Lamarcus Aldridge, the performances of Nic Batum and Damian Lillard should be applauded, and Wes Matthews should have women in togas hired to feed him after his gladiatorial performance. And gain, Lamarcus did have 20 points and 15 rebounds in a win over the Miami heat.
But at what point is him getting his averages just that? Average.