Terry Stotts increased LaMarcus Aldridge’s minutes tonight in an effort to get him back into rhythm; and it worked. In just 18 minutes of play, Aldridge scored 20 points and collected 8 rebounds, to the delight of every Blazer fan in the CenturyLink Arena (Boise, Idaho). The Trail Blazers handily defeated the Utah Jazz, 96-86, despite Aldridge being pulled from the game in the 3rd quarter to rest.
Even though cresting 20 in a preseason game is a feat for most players in the league (due to experimental lineups and developmental minute allocation) Aldridge was not the only Blazer to reach this benchmark. Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 23 points in 29 minutes, though it should be noted that he too broke 20 in the 3rd quarter.
Although not entirely unexpected, this is exactly what we need to see right now. We have watched the Blazers struggle in preseason, thus far, without a healthy LaMarcus Aldridge. When he is on the floor, everyone’s job gets easier. It is very reassuring to see the Blazers functioning as advertised (despite Batum’s absence), even if it’s against the rebuilding Utah Jazz.
Last season, Aldridge led the team in scoring with 21.1 points per game, while Lillard trailed closely behind him with 19. I believe this year will be a tossup. With both players ideally averaging around 20 a night, surrounded by a strong supporting cast, Portland’s offense could resemble the fast paced 2013 Nuggets; especially if the perennially unfulfilled promise to “get out and run” is finally made good.
We won’t know how the team will truly function until all the pieces are healthy at the same time. With Batum and Wright still sidelined, Mo Williams stepped into a minor scoring role as the only other Blazer to reach double digits with 11 points. I suppose that’s the beauty of depth though. On any given night, the Blazers’ scoring can come from different players than the night before. So while Lillard and Aldridge set the tone, they now have a lot more help.
Portland: Damian Lillard – 23 points, 5 assists, 1 rebound
Utah: Gordon Hayward – 20 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal