I’ve never been to Portland, OR save for about 1 hour in the airport, and I’ve never seen a Blazers game in person (statement 1 would seem to flow directly to statement 2, right?), but I unabashedly love the Blazers and all the ideas/images they bring to the surface about great 1990s Western Conference basketball.
What’s going on with them right now is interesting: we knew this Rockets-Blazers series would be cool and good and interesting, but we didn’t really have a scope on how insane LaMarcus Aldridge was going to be through two games. Let’s run down a few basics: Damian Lillard is openly wondering “What can the Rockets do to stop him?” People are opening up discussions about his place in Blazers’ all-time history. In a three-game sweep (they lost) to the Celtics in 1986, Michael Jordan (Bulls) averaged 43.7 PPG in the series; that was, until two nights ago, the highest average across a stay in the playoffs ever. Now Aldridge is averaging 44.5 PPG. Yes, it’s two games. And yes, Portland will probably win the series and San Antonio will probably beat Dallas, and there’s a significantly smaller chance that Aldridge will be going for 44 points a night vs. the Spurs in a Western semis series. But regardless, he’s balling out of control right now.
Because people tend to stay around the sport they once dominated, you see some interesting trend lines in the NBA playoffs. For example, LeBron James is leading his team right now against a team owned by Michael Jordan. Little greatest-of-all-time-candidates-in-the-same-buildings-for-a-week action there. In the same vein, Kevin McHale now coaches the Rockets, and while McHale’s game was a lot different than Aldridge — Aldridge can power slam you in the post, but his jumper is also fairly silky — he’s now watching a team he coaches get tormented by someone excelling at the position he once played. That has to be kind of weird, right?
If you wanted some additional context on just how insane what Aldridge is doing right now truly is, consider this, via Deadspin:
According to Synergy Sports, the Blazers are running 35.5 plays per game for Aldridge in the half court so far in the playoffs, and he is scoring 1.25 points per possession. Manu Ginobili has the next-highest mark among the top 20 in usage with 1.22 points per possession, but he’s only getting 18 plays per game in the half court. In other words, Aldridge is using twice as many possessions as the other most-efficient player in these playoffs, but he’s still scoring at a more efficient rate. Yeah, it’s only two games, but damn.
I realize Mavericks-Spurs is knotted at 1-1, but damn, a Spurs-Blazers Round 2 with some Aldridge vs. Duncan stuff would be cool to see. Another trend line: old vs. new. Cool!
Thing I utterly ignored in this post and probably should dedicate more time to: Dwight Howard, while not often necessarily on Aldridge 1-on-1, is still a former Defensive Player of the Year. Can’t more be done here? The Rockets are in an 0-2 hole and only now going on the road.
Finally, this might be a bit much, but it feels like it right now, doesn’t it?