There are a few hallmarks of a rivalry. Things like equal levels of play, equal or near equal records, similar accolades and achievements. Looking at Minnesota and Portland, and more specifically LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love, it’s pretty clear that this isn’t a rivalry. Minnesota hadn’t beat Portland in 15 tries going into Monday night’s game. Kevin Love is win-less as a professional against LaMarcus Aldridge, moreover he’s mostly been a non-factor against LA. As for their respective records, going into Monday’s game the Blazers were 16 games better than the Timberwolves.
Monday night followed the usual Minnesota/Portland script. The Blazers dominated the Wolves, leading by double-digits most of the night before finishing off Minny by 14, and LaMarcus outscore Love 21-to-12. Which, of course, leads to the real discrepancy in the KLove/LA rivalry. Kevin Love is the All-Star. I was shaking my head when the announcement was made, and I’m shaking my head right now.
The LaMarcus snub has been well documented, so I won’t spend too much time on it, and since Monday night is a holiday I’ll try and keep it short. I’ll say this to start, though, this may be just the kind of win Portland needs. A 3-0 road trip is fantastic, considering the problems the Blazers have had recently in that department, but what’s better is that this was an easy win. A win’s a win, there’s no doubt about that, but a 48-minute slog against a sub .500 team can take a lot out of a team. Yes, Portland had to play a few stretches Monday night, you got put in a few minutes of hard work, I don’t care who the opponent is, but outscoring Minnesota by 15 in the opening quarter and by eight in the third quarter was enough to let Portland put it in cruise control somewhat in the night’s final quarter.
Breaking it down one step further, there was plenty that happened Monday that should have everybody feeling pretty positive about the future. Three guys not named LaMarcus Aldridge stepped up Monday, and because LA has been so consistently dominate I’ll focus this recap on his teammates. The surprise, of sorts, Monday night was Dante Cunningham. DC has had some big nights this season, showing that he most definitely has a place in Portland’s rotation and a career as an NBA regular, but Monday night he took his game to another level. Cunningham was all over the court in the first half, both on the offensive and the defensive ends of the floor. DC set career highs in both rebounds, with 13, and points, with 18. Credit a lot of DC’s play to his finally getting comfortable playing with the mask. Along with Cunningham, Rudy Fernandez and Wesley Matthews both contributed big scoring nights. Rudy scored 18, hitting four threes, and Wesley added 23 to lead all scorers. Wesley, Rudy, Andre Miller, and Nicolas Batum, have played second and third scorer by committee in the last few games. I’ve said many times that if all four of them can get going on the same night teams better be ready for a fight. Throw Brandon Roy in that mix too, and all of sudden Portland looks like a team with some serious firepower. I know that’s a lot of speculation, but with how Portland’s played these last few weeks, and the way this season has gone overall, I think I can be forgiven for being optimistic.
Portland was tested somewhat on this road trip, having to overcome runs by both Toronto and Detroit, but the real test will come Wednesday when the Blazers host the New Orleans Hornets. With the Western Conference as tight as it is, Portland is a half-game from sixth place, two games out of fifth, and five games from fourth, wins against teams ahead of the Blazers in the standings count double. The same is true for loses.
Just one quick thought:
- Monday afternoon LaMarcus Aldridge was named Western Conference Player of the Week for the second time in four weeks. LA scored more than 30 points three times last week, leading Portland to three straight wins. The Blazers have won five straight as of Monday, and have lost only twice in February. Just as a point of comparison, Minnesota has only won two straight twice this season, and have had multiple stretches of losing five or more straight games. It’s not my job to select All-Stars, but I would love to see a written explanation from David Stern as to why Kevin Love is more deserving of All-Star selection than LaMarcus Aldridge.